Rangers and Thrashers ready for first playoff game in Atlanta since 1980

Author:
Publish date:

The Thrashers will open the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs Thursday night against the New York Rangers, the seven-year-old franchise's first post-season game and the first playoff game in Atlanta since 1980 - the Flames' final season in the city.

As the Southeast Division champions and the No. 3 seed in the conference, the Thrashers have the home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series.

"I think we're going to generate lots of energy in this great city with the playoffs," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "There are lots of faithful hockey fans who have waited a long time for this, and now we're going to be able to thank them by giving them the NHL playoffs.

"That will create an extra buzz for this city and hopefully create new hockey fans."

The Flames never won a playoff series in Atlanta.

The Thrashers are playoff newcomers, but general manager Don Waddell made some key moves before the trade deadline to add post-season experience.

Atlanta is 12-4-1 since Waddell acquired forward Keith Tkachuk from St. Louis, defenceman Alexei Zhitnik from Philadelphia and winger Pascal Dupuis from the Rangers.

The Thrashers already had strong veteran leadership from such players as Marian Hossa, who reached 100 points for the first time in his career, Slava Kozlov, Bobby Holik and captain Scott Mellanby. Ilya Kovalchuk, who had 42 goals and 76 points, is the team's rising star.

Another key for the Thrashers was the stability in the net provided by another young star, Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen was 34-24-9 while allowing 2.79 goals a game.

"The Rangers have a great power play and it's going to be key for us not to take too many penalties," Lehtonen said. "We have played well against the Rangers this year, and I hope we can continue that."

Veteran goalie Johan Hedberg was 9-4-2 with a 2.89 GAA.

The Thrashers set franchise records with 43 wins and 97 points. The team won three of four regular-season games against the Rangers, the No. 6 seed.

Atlanta finished four points ahead of Tampa Bay in the division, a year after finishing two points behind the Lightning and missing the playoffs.

TOP HEADLINES

Nicholas Robertson (Steven Ellis/The Hockey News)
Play

Maple Leafs Prospect Robertson Hopes to Make an Impact – On and Off the Ice

The skilled winger made a splash during the 2020 playoff bubble. This season he's fine-tuning his game in the hopes reaching the NHL full time, and in the process becoming one of the league's few Filipino players.

USATSI_15609904
Play

Holtby Latest in Long List of Canucks LGBTQ+ Allies

The new Vancouver goalie got a push to become more social active: 'My wife has taught me a lot… and kind of broadened my views on a lot of LGBT community issues'

USATSI_15632326_168393428_lowres
Play

Carey Price Isn't the Habs' Only Problem, But He's Their Biggest One

The Montreal Canadiens' goaltender is playing very much like the team in front of him, and that is simply not good enough when you're eating up almost 13 percent of the team's cap space on a long-term deal.