Another forward, Brandon Prust, injured his foot blocking a shot by Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien and could not play the third period. Defenseman Dan Girardi also sat the entire third period after tweaking a rib muscle during a fight with Atlanta's Andrew Ladd after he stood up for teammate Marc Staal, who fell awkwardly shoulder-first into the boards following a hit by Atlanta's captain.
But they still found a way to win. Brian Boyle evened the game with 5:19 left in regulation and Mats Zuccarello, perfect in three tries in the shootout, won it with the only goal in the tie-breaker to give the Rangers a 3-2 win over Atlanta before 17,061 at Philips Arena.
"We just kind of take on that attitude that we're going to grind, we're going to keep coming at you," Boyle said.
The 6-foot-7 Boyle beat 6-3, 260-pound All-Star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in a footrace for the puck and flipped a shot over Ondrej Pavelec for his 17th goal of the season. The shot was only one of three for the Rangers in the third period despite a 5-on-3 advantage that lasted 1:24.
Rangers coach John Tortorella had nothing but praise for Boyle - a player whom, Tortorella said, he had penciled in as a cut during training camp -- and the rest of his team following the win, just the Rangers' third in their last seven games.
"We expect it out him now," Tortorella said, adding that he has told Boyle that, "Now it's your responsibility to be 'this guy.'"
For Atlanta, which entered the night in danger of falling out of the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot if it had lost in regulation and Carolina had won, the loss continued a frustrating stretch - even though they ended the night three points up on the Southeast Division-rival Hurricanes. The Thrashers have not trailed in 130 minutes over their last two games but have lost both 3-2 in shootouts.
They are 3-6 in shootouts, tying Edmonton for the most losses in the tiebreaker. Overall, they are 1-3-3 in their last seven games.
For the last two games, Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay has invoked variations on the word "frustrating" to describe the results. He called it "aggravating" that the Thrashers had veterans on the ice for the tying goal.
"We have to be willing to pay the price in the third period to win," he said. "We have to find a way to win."
Anthony Stewart gave Atlanta the lead late in the second period after some creative work by Bryan Little, who is riding a hot streak with 3 goals and 2 assists in his last six games. Little worked a 2-on-2, using his speed down the left side to back off Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger, then curled towards the middle and shot. The puck hit Stewart's backside, but he quickly put in the rebound with 1:59 left in the period.
The Thrashers had an active offensive first period with 11 shots and converted one of them for the game's first goal. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, his usual spectacular self with 29 saves, gave up a long rebound on a hard point shot from Byfuglien. Tim Stapleton collected the rebound and passed to Toby Enstrom at the left point for a shot that and Nik Antropov deflected into the net at 6:47.
The Rangers tied the game just 2:43 into the second period. A scrambly sequence began when the Rangers dumped the puck in and Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec (20 saves) went behind the net to play it. The puck took a funny bounce and came to Zuccarello and Pavelec had to slide back into the crease to stop it. Defenseman Ron Hainsey eventually gained full control for Atlanta but his pass up the left boards was intercepted by Derek Stepan and Wojtek Wolski redirected Stepan's shot-pass from the slot past Pavelec for the goal.
With the teams entering the shootout, the Rangers, with Lundqvist on their side, felt they had the advantage. They have won four out of five this season. He stopped Little, Antropov and finally Niclas Bergfors.
"Once we get through overtime, you like your chances as far as Henrik handles himself," Tortorella said.
Zuccarello scored in the second round by skating in quickly on Pavelec, stopping, faking and putting a forehand shot around the goalie from close range. The speedy 5-foot-7 Norwegian made an impact throughout the game, finishing plus-1 with five shots in 17:59.
Tortorella said X-rays on Prust proved negative and that Girardi would be day-to-day. Overall, he gave his team "high marks" for a solid defensive effort two nights after a sloppy 4-1 loss to Carolina.
"Again, I'm not sure what our lineup's going to be in our next game, but we're trying," Tortorella said. "We're trying and they found a way to get some points."