Former New York defenseman Brian Leetch says he'll be happy if people can remember that he played for the Rangers. It'll be hard to forget after the team puts his jersey in the rafters.
The Rangers will retire Leetch's jersey at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, when they host the Atlanta Thrashers for the second consecutive game in each club's final contest before the All-Star break.
Leetch spent the first 16-plus seasons of his 18-year NHL career with the Rangers, and ranks second in franchise history with 1,129 games played, first with 741 assists, second with 981 points, and first among defensemen in goals (240) and points (981).
His No. 2 will join Mark Messier's No. 11 and Mike Richter's No. 35 in the rafters -- completing the trio most responsible for ending the Rangers' 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994.
"I always say, if anybody remembers me as years go by, if they say, 'Didn't you play for the Rangers?' That's good enough for me," said Leetch, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner during the 1994 postseason. "If I played long enough and had enough of an impact that someone can at least remember that I wore the uniform that I played in for all those years."
Leetch's career with New York ended when the club traded him to Toronto late in the 2003-04 season. After short stints with the Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins, Leetch didn't play in 2006-07, informally ending his career.
The Rangers (23-21-6) hope to honor Leetch and head into the break on a high note as they try for their second consecutive win over the Thrashers (23-25-3). New York cruised to a 4-0 victory Tuesday after Atlanta leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk was ejected late in the first period for driving Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival into the boards from behind.
"They were missing Kovalchuk, and he is a big part," said forward Jaromir Jagr, who had a goal and two assists. "Next game they are going to be better."
Unfortunately for the Thrashers, however, they won't be getting Kovalchuk back for the rematch. The sixth-year winger was suspended for one game without pay for the hit on Rozsival, who was cut and stayed down for a few minutes, but returned later in the game.
"It's a contact sport," Kovalchuk, the team leader with 37 goals and 63 points, said. "I wasn't trying to kill anybody."
The Thrashers were shut out for the eighth time this season, and fell to 0-3-1 in their last four games, matching their longest winless streak since opening the season with six consecutive losses.
"Everybody seemed sleepy or tired," Thrashers coach Don Waddell said. "We've had slow starts a couple of games in a row and it's killing us."
The Rangers took advantage of the Thrashers' slow start, scoring twice in the first period and finishing with a 39-14 shots advantage.
"You're not going to score unless you shoot the puck," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "We didn't give them a whole lot to work with.
"We are still trying to get ourselves corrected here. We understand that they are an explosive team, so we thought that we would have our hands full. We got a good start, a good jump on them. We were a pretty relentless team."
Despite the win, New York has gone 3-6-2 this month to fall into last place in the Atlantic Division. The Rangers, who haven't won back-to-back games since a three-game win streak Dec. 26-30, are seven points behind division-leading New Jersey.
"I am glad we won, but we have a long way to go," Jagr said. "We have to win a lot more games to get in the playoffs."
Tuesday's victory was New York's first in three meetings this season with the Thrashers, who the Rangers swept in the first round of last season's playoffs.
New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist is 3-2-4 with a 2.32 goals-against average in 10 career games against Atlanta, including Tuesday's shutout -- his seventh of the season.