2007-04-06 / Sports

Avery Ignites Rangers Renewed Drive For NHL Playoffs

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

NEW YORK - Although bigger names changed addresses at the trading deadline, it was the Rangers February 5 move with the Los Angeles Kings that's paying the greatest dividends.

Before Sean Avery was acquired for Jason Ward and a few prospects, the Blueshirts were adrift and unmotivated, but the 26 year-old came in and provided the spark to ignite the team.

And maybe, he had his own reasons to do so.

"Part of my motivation is to prove to Larry Brooks this was a batter trade than [Butch] Goring to the Islanders [back in 1980]," quipped Avery, as the Post's beat writer was standing in earshot.

No matter what drives him, the stats tell the simple story. Since the Rangers acquired Avery, they have posted a 16- 5-5 record and now are two points away from clinching their second playoff appearance in a row.

And Avery is large part of that success. Last night, he was the first star in the Rangers 7-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Scoring the "Gordie Howe" hat trick - a goal, assist and a fight - with another goal to boot, the forward led the Blueshirts as they put a serious crimp in Toronto's faint playoff hopes, while securing their own.

"As a team, we were prepared to do what we needed to do," said coach Tom Renney, who has used Avery in key situations. "As a team, we wanted to compete and Sean serves as a catalyst along those lines."

The trade didn't come without risks. Avery seemed to wear out his welcome in LA and at times put his foot in his mouth. But since coming to New York, none of that has happened. Yes, he has called opposing players "meatheads" and "whiners" - like he did to Darcy Tucker last night - to the press, but nothing was too earth shattering.

Maybe it was the change of scenery that did the trick. "I think I have given him opportunity to play a vital role for my team," Renney said. "I talked about leadership and maybe that's something he hasn't had in the past, as much as we expect it here."

"He's still a young player but he has a good hockey sense to know where your team needs help to deliver on that. He's a passionate player and an emotional player."

That exuberance has made him quickly into a Garden favorite, which is why Avery loves playing in New York.

"People care [here]," he said. "We had a core group of fans in LA, but these fans here are bleeding blue right now. It's fun and a motivation factor. We knew they would be loud."

Avery's impact is so clear, Jaromir Jagr even said, the trade was the reason why the Rangers are looking at the postseason next week.

"Jags has exaggerated a little," Avery thought. "Hank [Lundqvist] has played well. [Brendan Sanahan] coming back has helped us. So, it's just my game I played every night."

No matter who should deserve the credit, Avery will have his chance during the playoffs to strut his stuff and maybe set his own milestone.

"I like to get a real hat trick at one point," he said. "But, I will save that for the playoffs."

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