Rangers Return Home

It's been a decade since the New York Rangers won a playoff series. Not surprisingly, they're all fired up about returning to Madison Square Garden with a chance to finish off the Atlanta Thrashers.

"I get goose bumps just thinking about how loud it's going to be," New York's Sean Avery said. "We don't want to let our fans down. We have to win two more games."

Oddsmakers have made New York -160 money line (NHL Odds) favorites for todays game, the over/under has been set at 5.5 total goals (View NHL Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 68% of bets for this game have been placed on New York -160 (View NHL Bet Percentages).

The Rangers already won the first two in Atlanta, giving them a commanding edge in the best-of-seven series. They can advance by winning the next two in New York - Game 3 on Tuesday, Game 4 the following night.

"To win the first two on the road ... it's big," Avery said. "Now, we've got to keep the momentum."

New York's last postseason series win came in 1997, when the Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference final. Then came a seven-year playoff drought - the longest in team history - before the Rangers returned in 2006, only to get swept in four straight by New Jersey.

Now, they're in position to sweep. New York hasn't even trailed in this series, taking advantage of a team making its first playoff appearance.

While the Thrashers played it close the first two games, losing both by a goal, they're having trouble getting shots on goal, looked anemic on the power play and seem to be spending a little too much time trying to deliver big hits rather than controlling play.

Atlanta looked downright frustrated in the closing seconds of Game 2, when Ilya Kovalchuk delivered a cheap shot on Avery, leaving him sprawled on the ice, and Keith Tkachuk piled into the melee to earn a roughing penalty.

At the buzzer, Andy Sutton charged into another New York player, earning a meaningless penalty that nearly started another brawl.

Thrashers coach Bob Hartley shrugged off the shenanigans.

"I don't think we're frustrated. Maybe it's just the love we have for Sean Avery," Hartley quipped. "What happened at the end, those last 10 seconds, it's just kids being kids. Nothing bad there - just a little playoff fever going around."

The Thrashers' first case of postseason fever will be short if they don't start putting more pressure on Henrik Lundqvist. New York outshot Atlanta by a combined 77-52 in the first two games, making things a little too easy for the goalie.

The Thrashers were particularly inept on the power play in Game 2, going 0-for-6 and struggling just to keep the puck in the New York zone. They relied mostly on the dump-and-chase, but were usually beaten to the puck by the Rangers, who had no trouble firing it back into Atlanta's end. After watching this useless exercise over and over, the home fans couldn't help but let out a few boos.

Even though the Rangers failed to convert any of their six power plays, they looked much more crisp with the puck and actually got some shots at the Atlanta net.

That said, the Thrashers were certainly the victims of some bad luck Saturday. Avery scored New York's first goal from center ice when he was simply trying to dump the puck into the Thrashers' zone. Goalie Johan Hedberg broke behind the net to cut it off, but the puck caught a metal riser that holds the glass, ricocheted unexpectedly toward the goal and went in before a diving Hedberg could get back.

Avery didn't even know he had scored until he saw teammate Brendan Shanahan with his arms in the air.

"That wasn't a bad goal," Hartley said. "That was a lucky goal. Unfortunately, it happened against us."

After Kovalchuk tied it for the Thrashers early in the third period, another bounce went New York's way with just 4 minutes remaining. Fedor Tyutin held in the puck at the blue line and fired a shot toward the net that was blocked by Atlanta defenseman Greg de Vries.

But the puck deflected to Avery standing deep in the left faceoff circle. He glanced at Martin Straka breaking toward the net, which seemed to freeze Hedberg and his teammates. Then, with a brilliant bit of vision, Avery spotted Shanahan standing all alone in the slot.

The 38-year veteran didn't miss, flipping a shot into a huge hole before Hedberg had any chance of getting across the crease.

Avery, acquired from Los Angeles in early February, usually makes more of a splash off the ice. He was once reprimanded by the league for derogatory comments against French-Canadian players and has never been shy about expressing whatever is on his mind, making him a convenient target for opposing fans.

But Avery has stuck to business in the playoffs, standing out for his dominance on the ice. He has a series-leading 17 shots on goal, shining on a line with postseason vets Shanahan and Straka.

"He's just trying to do his job," Hartley said. "I don't know him personally, but he seems to disturb a lot of people in this league."

But the Atlanta coach insisted that his team isn't disturbed by its daunting deficit.

"We're going to New York on a mission," he said. "We're not going there with our chins down. Sure, they have a lead on us. But our guys will show up, too."

by: Gary Roberts - theSpread.com - Email Us

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