Scott Gomez needed something. He’d been a big part of the problem having gone minus-seven in two consecutive defeats with talk something could happen if the losing continued.
In a more feisty kinda game in which he even traded punches with Atlanta superstar Ilya Kovalchuk even getting the better of it, a hungrier Gomez got the reward scoring 18 seconds into overtime lifting the Rangers over the Thrashers 3-2 in Atlanta Wednesday night.
“I just went to the net,” the second-year Ranger center later said of cashing in on a Markus Naslund dump in which eluded Atlanta netminder Johan Hedberg. “I thought he was going to get it in his glove, and it took a bad bounce. I got lucky.”
Perhaps that’s the kind of fortunate bounce the Rangers needed to get themselves going heading into a very tough divisional match with the resurgent Devils at The Rock tomorrow night.
Had it not been for a huge glove save from steady backup Stephen Valiquette on Jason Williams with 91 seconds left in regulation, the Blueshirts might’ve come away with nothing. Instead, his big stop allowed them to reach OT, where for once they won without needing a shootout thanks to a hustling Gomez getting to the loose change stuffing a backhand in for his fifth smiling before being mobbed by happy teammates who had to be feeling the pressure.
They needed the heroics because twice they couldn’t hold one-goal leads in the second and third. First, it was enforcer Colton Orr getting his first by finding an Aaron Voros pass and shooting it past Hedberg for a 1-0 lead at 2:37. Defenseman Wade Redden, who returned after missing one game with a groin injury picked up the first of three assists- a season best along with a plus-three rating.
But less than four minutes later, former Rangers 2002 seventh round pick Joey Crabb took advantage of a poor change taking a Nathan Oystrick pass and beating Valiquette high glove on a breakaway to knot it at 6:05.
A few minutes later, Gomez and Kovalchuk got into it exchanging blows after a scrum with both sitting four minutes apiece for roughing. The battle continued when each got whistled for slashing later even though replays showed only Kovalchuk hacking while Gomez just stood in surprise as to what he’d done wrong.
During four-on-four, it was all Thrashers applying great pressure with Valiquette making a couple of timely stops before Ranger captain Chris Drury was caught on too long and took a slashing minor with 36 seconds remaining in the period. If there’s one area which has continued to be steady all season long, it’s the penalty kill which again stifled Atlanta thanks to diligent work from Blair Betts getting in the path of two Kovalchuk one-timers.
Still a man down, the Blueshirts notched their second shorthanded goal of the season thanks to some great work by Ryan Callahan, who beat a man and redirected a Brandon Dubinsky pass in for his seventh and first in nine games putting them ahead 2-1 at 1:20.
But again, the Rangers lead proved shortlived when Kovalchuk was able to deflect home a Boris Valabik shot pass for his 10th 1:29 later. He got open because Michal Rozsival took a shot off his skate and couldn’t recover in time. Chris Thorburn added a helper.
A few minutes later, Drury almost setup Nigel Dawes for a go-ahead tally but Hedberg read it well getting the pad out to deny the opportunity.
The Rangers also killed an undisciplined Dubinsky high sticking minor before getting the money save from Valiquette to get them to OT where Gomez won it.