Brian used to refer to Atlanta as an automatic loss for Buffalo because everytime they played, the Thrashers took it to his Sabres. I guess the same applies to my team, who last night couldn't get out of their own way- suffering a humiliating 3-0 shutout to a team that's made the playoffs once in their existence. None of that mattered. Not even on an emotional night where former officer Steven McDonald presented Brandon Prust with the Extra Effort Award with two-time recipient Ryan Callahan on crutches showing support to thunderous cheers.
Despite another riveting speech from McDonald that included, "We win. You lose," the Rangers just couldn't. It didn't start out badly by any stretch with their first few shifts pinning the Thrashers deep, generating chances on Ondrej Pavelec. The problem was the young netminder didn't cooperate, stopping all 29 shots en route to his fourth shutout of the season. The Rangers took the first four shots but couldn't get the all important first goal, which may have sent Atlanta in retreat. Instead, they came on following a couple of strong shifts from Prust's line with Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko. Once the Thrashers began taking the play to us, it was evident that we were in for a long night. A couple of very tough saves from Henrik Lundqvist foreshadowed a heartbreaking script. When he squeezed the pads together to rob Dustin Byfuglien in the second, the look on his face was one of, 'Uh oh. If I give up one, we're going to lose.'
That's how superior the Thrashers were. A team with skill and speed who just aren't a good match-up for our team. No surprise that they felt quite comfortable on the Garden ice, where they've now won five straight. Sadly, the Rangers are 3-13-3 over the last 19 versus Atlanta. Honestly, I think all three wins came via the shootout. I was concerned going in because of this danger. Plus the loss of Callahan was felt with our attack not as strong. Marian Gaborik isn't even an ounce of what Callahan brings, which explained why it didn't take long for John Tortorella to break up Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and the listless Gaborik, who failed miserably in a big game. If our fate is sealed by two Carolina wins and I see no reason why they'll suffer the same end result in Atlanta tonight, you really have to wonder what's going on inside Gaborik's head. Is it the injuries he had? Is it just mental? Can anyone explain the lack of burst coming from his skates with opponents easily able to recover when he has a step? Between the mind numbing inability to score when our team needs it and the lazy play away from the puck like allowing mere mortal Eric Boulton to escape for the crusher a few minutes into the third, you have to ask if he'll be back. Will anyone take that salary? For some reason, Gabby just doesn't fit the system.
Everyone else gives maximum effort. Even on a night they didn't have it, the try was there. The execution wasn't. Anyone could see how lucky they were not to be down after one. So, when Islander stiff Rob Schremp took full advantage of a dreadful Sean Avery turnover for the game's first goal, it wasn't a surprise. However, seeing Atlanta captain Andrew Ladd split our top pair badly, dusting Dan Girardi before going backhand deke on Lundqvist, was stunning. Both Girardi and Marc Staal had games to forget with each on for two of three goals against. Tortorella's not wrong when he states that nobody played well. Even if Boyle came close, drawing iron before the roof collapsed, our team looked disjointed. You can't tempt fate twice. Against Boston, they got a mulligan. I knew after the second goal, there would be no comeback. Considering that I already wasn't feeling well, I headed for the car and listened to the third where Dave Maloney was beside himself after Gaborik's error.
Maloney questioned Tortorella sitting our most skilled forward out the remaining 15:41 in Game 81 trailing by three. Yes. He made a brutal mistake. But at that point with the team needing him and more shifts for Anisimov, who also found himself on the bench much of the third, they had to play their best. Conversely, Avery wasn't punished for his lazy clear that's been a trait ever since he returned to Broadway. You figure it out. Erik Christensen, who didn't look half bad between Avery and converted right wing Matt Gilroy, received increased minutes. The same player whose role had reduced to almost zilch aside from shootout specialist. Sometimes, the coach's decisions baffle. Especially with one more game to play tomorrow afternoon (12:30 ET) against the Devils.
It might not even matter. If the Canes win out, even if we beat the Devils and finish tied in the standings with 93 points, Carolina gets in by virtue of one more regulation/overtime win (35-34). The only prayer is that the Thrashers somehow summon up the same energy against a rested opponent tonight in a more than half empty building and do us a huge favor. I just can't see that happening. Not the way the battle tested Hurricanes are playing. Cam Ward's on a role and Eric Staal, Erik Cole and Jeff Skinner are carrying them. Their best players are playing like it and that spells doom unfortunately for us.
I can honestly say if they win tonight, I'm not going to bother going tomorrow. For what point? Even if we win, I just can't see the Canes losing at home to Tampa Bay with their season on the line. It's like Hasan says. When they do make it, watch out. Every indication is that Carolina will win out and then eliminate whoever they face. I'd love to be wrong because I could easily that being us. It's too bad they didn't meet the challenge yesterday. Now, it's our of their control.
Hope for a miracle.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (23 saves)
2nd Star-Eric Boulton, Atl (6th of season)
1st Star-Rob Schremp, Atl (GW goal, assist)