ATLANTA -- Rookie Johan Witehall made the most of his sudden promotion.
Witehall, called up from the minors to replace troubled Kevin Stevens, scored his first NHL goal and Petr Nedved scored three times to lead the New York Rangers over the Atlanta Thrashers 6-3 Monday night.
"Despite the situation, it's great for me. I just want to play," Witehall said.
Witehall had 18 points in 43 games with Hartford of the American Hockey League. He said he needed just a half-hour to get his gear and himself on a plane to Atlanta when he got the call to join the Rangers on Sunday.
He was put on New York's high-scoring line of Theoren Fleury and Michael York.
"I can't complain," said a smiling Witehall, who scored on a nifty pass from Fleury. "With him you just skate and the puck comes to you."
New York won its sixth straight and reached the .500 mark (20-20-7) for the first time since Oct. 19.
The Rangers, who have won eight of nine, took an early 3-0 lead as Witehall scored at 3:05, Nedved at 5:52 and York at 6:42.
Witehall was promoted after Stevens, a three-time All-Star, was charged Monday with carrying several grams of crack and released on bail.
Stevens, who could face up to three years in prison on the felony drug-possession charge, was arrested with a prostitute at a motel early Sunday in suburban St. Louis after the Rangers played the Blues.
Stevens, placed in the league's substance-abuse program, also was charged with soliciting a prostitute and possessing drug paraphernalia.
"He's doing what he needs to do to get better," New York coach John Muckler said. "He needs all kind of support and we will be there for him."
Atlanta goalie Norm Maracle, yanked by coach Curt Fraser eight days ago after giving up three goals in 6:41 of a 6-3 loss to the Rangers, was replaced Monday night after giving John MacLean's goal at 4:30 of the second. Scott Fankhouser replaced Maracle with the Rangers leading 5-1.
"I don't know what's wrong with me," said Maracle. "Every good shot was in the net, that's basically what it is. If I play like this every night, I'm going to be in the minors so fast."
Nedved completed his fourth career hat trick and second of the season on a short-handed goal with 10:16 gone in the third. He also had three goals on Jan. 8 at Toronto.
"I got some good opportunities tonight," said Nedved. "Of late we've been clicking and playing good and it's been fun."
New York backup goalie Kirk McLean made his first appearance in 11 games and made 25 saves.
Shean Donovan's fourth goal of the season got the Thrashers to 3-1 with 55 seconds left in the first.
Defenseman Maxim Galanov's first goal of the season with 5:30 left in the second made it 5-2, and Chris Tamer scored with 6:48 left for the final score.
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