2007-04-20 / Sports

Red Hot Rangers Stomp Thrashers In Four Game Sweep

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

NEW YORK - Before this series, the Rangers only swept a NHL playoff series twice in their history.

The first came in 1972 when the Blueshirts dispatched the Blackhawks in the Semifinals, only to lose to Boston in the Finals and then in 1994, as they sent the Islanders packing to open their Stanley Cup run.

So when the final buzzer sounded on Wednesday night and the scoreboard read 4-2 in favor of the Rangers to send the Thrashers home in four straight, it's not known if it's a sign of things to come.

But there's a possibility that their victory might mean a sign the Rangers could be doing something special. "It's a tough thing to say," said Sean Avery, one of the main reasons why the Rangers won their first playoff series in 10 years. "Special is a group of guys that are sacrificing for each other, having each others backs and wants to win for each other."

Much like the first three games of the series, the Rangers demonstrated that in Game 4. This time, though, it was a little more difficult as Atlanta grabbed leads twice, forcing the Rangers to come back. And they needed a little luck with it and it came when Matt Cullen's game winner in the third hit the cross-bar and dropped down just over the line. Although not called immediately, a stoppage in play for a Toronto review showed that it just made it to give the Rangers the lead for the first time a little over two minutes into the third.

"It was a good feeling," said Cullen, who scored his fifth career playoff goal. "It was pretty good. [The review] felt like a long time. It was pretty nice."

It was also pretty nice how the Rangers showed resiliency in this game. After Keith Tkachuk scored the first goal at 6:38, Michal Rozsival tied it 1:19 later on the power play. And then when former Ranger Greg DeVries put Atlanta ahead in the second, Brendan Shanahan was able to knot the score up again late in the period by beating Johan Hedberg, who had 27 saves on the night.

"I go down on a two-on-one and I think I make a great shot and the goalie stops it," Avery said. "Shanny goes down on a two-on-one and he scores. That's what he does. It's tough to explain how it is or why it happens. That is what he does."

Henrik Lundqvist did what he does as well, by stopping 24 shots and once again looked great in the net.

"I was just relaxed and I didn't spend too much energy on things that didn't matter," said Lundqvist. "We knew the start was going to be important tonight. Unfortunately, they got the first goal, so they had a lot of energy from it. We stuck to the game plan and we didn't panic. Even when that had a 2-1 lead, we believed in each other."

Because of the Rangers faith, they now have a few days off as the rest of the playoffs continue. With possible matchups with Buffalo, Ottawa, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay still on the table, it will be a few days before the Blueshirts know who they are playing. But they will take the rest.

"I am glad it's over, especially the back-to-back games," said captain Jaromir Jagr, who score an empty netter to close it out. "I am glad we have the day off tomorrow. Even if we have a week off, we still have to practice, work hard and get the rest, especially for the guys who are injured. For the guys who are coming back, it's going to help them."

And for the Rangers and the Garden faithful, this sweep certainly helped them.

Notes: Here's a quick guide to the second round: If both the Sabres and Devils win their rounds, the Rangers will play Buffalo next.

If they both lose, then the Blueshirts will get home ice against Tampa Bay. Any kind of split by the top two teams, then the Rangers will play the winner of the Ottawa-Pittsburgh series…Lundqvist posted a 1.50 goals against average and .939 save percentage…

The Rangers outshot the Thrashers 143-99 in the series…Can't get enough Rangers before Round 2? Surf on over to www.newyorkrangers.com and check out the new Rangers On Demand, which will give coverage of the practices, player interviews and analysis by MSG personalities. Oh and because it's being beta tested right now, it's free.

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