Rangers Hold Off Thrashers 4-3 in Opener

Friday, April 13th 2007, 7:30 am
By: News On 6

The New York Rangers, the New Jersey Devils, the Detroit Red Wings and the Buffalo Sabres won their opening playoff games on Thursday night.

The Rangers topped the Atlanta Thrashers 4-3. New York led all the way and had to hold on as the Thrashers, in their playoff debut, had a 6-on-4 skating advantage in the final minute.

``I just tried to battle,'' goalie Henrik Lundqvist said after his first playoff victory. ``It was a close game in the end. We battled real hard in front of the net.''

The other openers saw Buffalo beat the New York Islanders 4-1; Detroit take Calgary 4-1; and New Jersey over Tampa Bay 5-3.

On Friday night, it will be San Jose at Nashville, Dallas at Vancouver, and Minnesota at Anaheim. The Sharks, Canucks and Ducks lead each series 1-0. San Jose needed double OT to beat the Predators and the Canucks went deep into the fourth overtime before edging Dallas on Wednesday night.

Atlanta's best chance to force overtime came when the Rangers got only their second penalty, a call against Thomas Pock for holding the stick, to set up the Thrashers' late power-play opportunity. Atlanta pulled goalie Kari Lehtonen after the penalty, but was stymied by Lundqvist.

``We cannot give up four goals to a goalie like Lundqvist,'' Atlanta's Eric Belanger said. ``It's going to be tough to win.''

Jaromir Jagr gave New York the early lead. Michael Nylander had a goal and two assists, and Michal Rozsival and Marcel Hossa also scored for the Rangers.

Belanger, Shane Hnidy and Pascal Dupuis scored for Atlanta.

``The way we played in the third is how we have to play in the first two,'' said Atlanta's Keith Tkachuk, who had an assist on Belanger's goal. ``We just gave them a little too much room. We had our chances at the end, but (Lundqvist) did a good job blocking our shots.''

Jagr was a bit disturbed that he got things going offensively.

``I don't like to score the first goal,'' Jagr said. ``That gives me bad luck. I scored the first goal this year and I struggled. I hate that.''

But he has to like being the only road team to win Thursday.

Sabres 4, Islanders 1

At Buffalo, Chris Drury and Brian Campbell each scored two goals for the league's best offensive team.

As they did in finishing the season with a league-leading 53 wins and 308 goals, the Sabres showed off their balanced offense. Campbell's game-opening goal was set up by fourth-line center Tim Connolly, and Buffalo converted two of six power-play chances.

``We're deep when we roll the lines like we did tonight,'' said Campbell, who also added an assist. ``It's a huge positive for our hockey club.''

Better still, Buffalo was sound on defense, limiting the Islanders to 21 shots, including just one in the first period.

Arron Asham scored for New York, which clinched the East's eighth and final playoff berth by winning its last four games of the regular season.

Minor league goalie Wade Dubielewicz wasn't to blame in making his career playoff debut filling in for starter Rick DiPietro, who's out after sustaining two concussions last month. Dubielewicz kept the Isles in by stopping 20 of the first 22 shots, and finished with 31 saves.

DiPietro has been cleared to practice and might start Game 2.

Red Wings 4, Flames 1

At Detroit, the Red Wings got two goals in the first 8 1/2 minutes. Valtteri Filppula and Nicklas Lidstrom scored in the first period and they led 4-0 by the middle of the second period on Pavel Datsyuk's and Mathieu Schneider's goals. That gave goalie Dominik Hasek more than enough offense.

The Western Conference's top-seeded team set the tone in the opening minutes when Schneider knocked down Matthew Lombardi, landing the first big hit of the game. A few minutes later, Filppula's goal ended a beautiful end-to-end play.

Schneider agreed it was a perfect game for the Red Wings.

``That can be scary because you want to keep up the momentum,'' he said. ``We've been in this situation before, so we know Game 2 is huge. It's as big for us as it is for them because we need to win to keep home-ice advantage that we worked all year to get.''

Devils 5, Lightning 3

Zach Parise scored his second goal on a give-and-go with Jamie Langenbrunner early in the third period. Scott Gomez set up power-play goals by Patrik Elias and Brian Rafalski, and the clinching goal by Brian Gionta with 1:22 to play for host New Jersey.

``It was just a preview of what the Devils have with this kid,'' said Gomez. ``He's got the flair for the big time. He just keeps getting better. He's always soaking up information. He's one of the hardest workers and he likes the spotlight. He's a special one.''

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who set a single-season record with 48 wins, looked ordinary in making 23 saves in the game determined by power plays and turnovers.

Vincent Lecavalier scored twice to rally the Lightning from a 3-1 deficit, and Martin St. Louis had the other for Tampa Bay.

The Devils converted on two of their three power-play chances and got both of Parise's goals and Gionta's on Lightning turnovers. Tampa Bay was 1-for-6 on the power play, with St. Louis converting with a two-man advantage.