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Scott Mellanby announced his retirement on Tuesday. ((Adrian Wyld/Associated Press))

An embarrassing first-round playoff exit was apparently enough to convince longtime NHL forward Scott Mellanby to leave the game.

The Atlanta Thrashers captain officially announced his retirement Tuesday, less than a week after Mellanby and company were swept in four games by the New York Rangers in an Eastern Conference quarter-final.

"I've been fortunate to live my dream for the past 21 years, and it's with a heavy heart that I'm retiring from the National Hockey League," the 40-year-old right-winger said.

"I'd like to thank all of my great teammates, the fans who have supported me, and all the wonderful people I have met along the way."

Mellanby had 12 goals and 36 points this season, helping Atlanta to its first playoff berth. It was the 17th time the right-winger collected at least 30 points.

Mellanby has played 1,431 regular-season games without a Stanley Cup championship, the most of any player in this year's playoffs.

"I would be lying if I didn't say the Stanley Cup thing is something that has pushed me to keep playing year after year," Mellanby, who has competed in the Cup finals twice with Philadelphia (1987) and Florida (1996), told CBC Sports Online. "It's disappointing it never happened.

"But it's so tough now [to win]. Even when I came in, this league's gone from 21 teams to now 30. It's that much tougher. You've got a lot of good teams that don't even get in the playoffs.

"I'm a competitive person. I enjoy the competition. It's my nature."

The Montreal native racked up 364 goals and 476 assists for 840 career regular-season points. He added 53 points in 136 playoff contests and sits 17th on the NHL all-time games played list.

Mellanby said he would like to be remembered as someone who came to play the game every night and gave a complete effort.

"I feel I've been a good teammate over the years," said Mellanby, who captained Florida for four years. "I want people to remember me for my hard work and [as] someone who cared about his teammates and about his organization."

However, many observers will rememberMellanby forcontributing to hockey lore early in the 1995-96 season.

When a rat scurried across the locker room before a game, Mellanby killed
it with a whack of the stick. He then went out and scored two goals
that night — dubbed a "rat trick" by teammate John Vanbiesbrouck.

As news of the episode spread, Florida fans began celebrating goals by tossing plastic rats onto the ice. By the playoffs, thousands of fake rodents littered the rink every time the Panthers scored.

"It became the motto of our team that season," Mellanby said. "When I played in the all-star game, a kid came up to me and said, 'You're the rat guy.' He didn't even know my name; he just knew I killed the rat."

The Thrashers have only eight players on their roster signed for next season.

Changes are expected, given the team's performance in the post-season and the fact they have 13 unrestricted free agents, including centres Keith Tkachuk and Eric Belanger, wingers Slava Kozlov and Pascal Dupuis, and defencemen Greg de Vries and Andy Sutton.

After the loss to the Rangers, Atlanta general manager Don Waddell said the team will be younger next season, with forwards Bryan Little, Brett Sterling and Colin Stuart thought to be ready for the move up from Chicago's American Hockey League team.

With files from the Associated Press