NEW YORK - Jaromir Jagr and Michael Nylander made Kari Lehtonen long for his safe spot on the bench. And the New York Rangers' top line needed less than a period to do it.
Lehtonen got the curious start over Johan Hedberg and then endured a thorough beating as the Rangers scored three times in the first period and cruised to a 7-0 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers that gave New York a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference playoff series Tuesday night.
Nylander had his first playoff hat trick, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 21 shots in his first NHL playoff shutout for the Rangers, who can advance to the second round as early as tonight at Madison Square Garden.
Lehtonen was touched for all seven goals on 35 shots. That was enough for the Rangers' victory theme "Sweet Caroline" to play with 5:16 remaining over chants of "Sweep! Sweep!"
Jagr assisted on all three of Nylander's scores and they teamed to set up defenseman Marek Malik for another that made it 3-0 at 12:26. But Nylander had the quickest strike of all when he wired a shot under Lehtonen's shoulder 32 seconds after the opening faceoff on New York's initial shot.
Rookie Ryan Callahan scored twice in the second period, defenseman Fedor Tyutin earned his fifth assist of the series, and Brendan Shanahan and Nylander added goals in the final frame.
PITTSBURGH - Light-scoring Anton Volchenkov sent a slap shot from the slot for a goal midway through the third period and Ottawa moved within one victory of eliminating Pittsburgh.
The Senators take a 3-1 lead into Game 5 on Thursday night in Ottawa, where the teams split the first two games in the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
Volchenkov, a defenseman, scored only once in 78 games during the season and had only one previous playoff goal, four years and a day before scoring his second. He has only nine goals in 229 career regular-season games.
The Senators got off to a fast start, as they have done throughout the series, and took a 1-0 lead with about 3Â½ minutes gone when Jason Spezza's intended pass toward the net deflected off Penguins rookie Jordan Staal's stick and into the net.
DALLAS - Trevor Linden shoveled a rebound past Marty Turco with 5:31 left in the third period and defenseman Willie Mitchell prevented a tie by sweeping a trickling puck off the goal line for Vancouver.
Vancouver leads the series 3-1 and can advance to the second round - and avoid a return trip to Texas - with a victory at home Thursday night.
Dallas is in jeopardy of being eliminated in a five-game, first-round series for the third straight postseason. A big part of the Stars' problem has been an inability to win at home. This was their sixth straight home playoff loss covering those three playoffs.
The save of the night came from Mitchell. Dallas' Mike Ribiero broke away from two defenders and put the puck right at Luongo. It bounced off him and began sliding oh-so-slowly toward the net, moving sideways. Mitchell got there in time to swat it away. A video review followed and the stop stood.
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Pushed around by bigger, stronger Anaheim in the first three games of this series, Minnesota finally shoved back.
Marian Gaborik scored a rare power-play goal and Niklas Backstrom made 28 saves to help the Wild avoid a sweep.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Brian Rolston and Mark Parrish also scored for the Wild, who had been thoroughly dominated by Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and the defensive Ducks in the first three games of the series.
Minnesota still faces an incredibly daunting task. Only two teams in NHL history have come back from 3-0 deficits to advance in the playoffs, the 1975 New York Islanders and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs. Game 5 is Thursday in Anaheim, Calif.