There are going to be nights like this. You just hope they don't come at the expense of players as was potentially the case for an already shorthanded Ranger club, who were thrashed literally and figuratively by a more determined Atlanta bunch who after nearly blowing a 5-2 third period lead, held off the Broadway hosts 6-4.
The loss halted a three-game win streak. What John Tortorella's guys did so well during it is what they didn't Tuesday. In spite of a strong start in which alternate captain Ryan Callahan scored his second in two in the opening minute, the Blueshirts were often sluggish by Craig Ramsay's more physical squad that won battles all night. It all added up to a deserved defeat, which had Tort fuming afterwards. If this team wants to be taken seriously, they can't take nights off. In this case, at least two periods and that maybe generous. Already without Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal, they now could be facing life minus second-year pivot Artem Anisimov, who left the contest with an ankle injury. Early word is it's not too promising. They also could be without Michal Rozsival, who hyperextended his knee. He's a gamer. So, if he misses any time, then you know it's bad.
Up one, the Rangers didn't finish the first period well. After a shaky start, the Thrashers began to dictate with their speed and forecheck, which was an issue. Especially grinders like Chris Thorburn and Ben Eager, who gave our D fits. They nearly combined to set up one-time Ranger Nik Antropov but surprise starter Martin Biron snuffed it out. Eventually, Atlanta's hard work paid off with a superb second which saw Rangers caught flatfooted while doing too much stick checking. Never was this more apparent than on Bryan Little's tying marker in which he took an Andrew Ladd pass in his end and then went coast to coast by Sean Avery and undressed both Marc Staal and Biron for a highlight reel goal, going to the backhand. Amazingly, it was his first. Why does that always seem to happen to us? Adding insult to injury, pest Eric Boulton scored later.
The Thrashers continued to outplay the Rangers, who couldn't be bothered to take the man. This time, a turnover led to a four-man rush with a streaking Evander Kane intercepting a pass from a teammate before turning Anisimov inside out and then wiring his sixth off the right post for Atlanta's first lead. It was at that point that Tortorella had seen enough, calling timeout and then chewing out the bench. At least they responded thanks to Sean Avery, who again had a standout performance. Boy, has he ever been a different player. This time, he outhustled Brent Sopel behind the net. A pinching Dan Girardi kept the play alive and then Avery did the rest, stuffing one home past Chris Mason for his first of the season.
However, they couldn't sustain thanks to a horrible pinch by Staal who was just brutal. Not to kill what's supposed to be our No.1 defenseman. But he has been less than adequate so far. There have been too many instances where our "shutdown guy" has gotten beaten. He is earning close to $4 million because Glen Sather overpaid Girardi, who at least is holding up his end of the bargain. This is Staal's fourth year. It's time for him to start earning that raise. Back to the pinch from Hell. Let's just say it led directly to another first goal. This time, it was ex-Devil Niklas Bergfors who picked high glove on Biron to give Atlanta the lead for good. Our backup was honest, admitting that he could've done more. In particular, Dustin Byfuglien's unscreened power play blast from the right circle which followed Boulton's early tally 49 seconds into the third was the back breaker. His glove was again victimized.
Suddenly up by three, the Thrashers couldn't handle prosperity. With Anisimov out, vet Todd White stepped up and scored his first in just his second game. Off a turnover which both Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky forced, White put home a rebound cutting it to 5-3. Before you knew it, as Dad and I were watching his Giants end Cliff Lee's night, it was suddenly a one-goal game thanks to do everything forward Brian Boyle. You really have to admire what he's done thus far. He came into camp in better shape, having improved his skating and finishing checks. Something, we rarely saw last year. He no longer is a waste. Also elevated with rookie Derek Stepan struggling again at MSG, Boyle combined with Avery and revelation Ruslan Fedotenko to make things interesting. Off some grunt work by his linemates, Boyle cleaned up in front for his third, giving the home club two goals in 131 seconds, pulling within one.
Unfortunately, that was as close as they got with Atlanta doing just enough to hold off the comeback. In particular, Byfuglien was a beast not only notching the winner and firing rockets but from a physical standpoint, he broke up plays and did a stellar job taking our smurfs off the puck. That kind of attention to detail from one of four former Cup champion Hawks resulted in the bad guys coming out of Manhattan with two points. Big Buff's familiar teammate Ladd sealed it with an empty netter.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Sean Avery, NYR (1st of season, assist in 15:43)
2nd Star-Alex Burmistrov, Atl (1st career NHL point-assisted on Kane's 6th, penalty drawn in 17:18)
1st Star-Dustin Byfuglien, Atl (PP GW w/14:59 left, game high 6 SOG, +1 in 23:24)