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New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers

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GAME: New York Islanders (2-3-0) at New York Rangers (4-1-2).

TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT.

Backup goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been nearly perfect for the first-place New York Rangers. The New York Islanders wish they could say the same of their own backup, Garth Snow.

Lundqvist leads the Rangers as they seek their fourth straight victory in the opener of a home-and-home set with the rival Islanders, who are 0-8-2 in the last 10 meetings in this series.

The 23-year-old Swede, playing in place of injured starter Kevin Weekes, made 23 saves Monday and Jaromir Jagr scored two power-play goals to lead the Rangers to a 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers.

With Weekes nursing a strained groin, Lundqvist has won three straight games after opening his NHL career with an overtime loss to New Jersey on Oct. 8. He has allowed only two goals in the three victories to lower his goals-against average to 1.24.

"The guys played really well in front of me and that allowed me to focus on my game," Lundqvist said. "The whole team is confident. We're having a lot of fun."

Petr Prucha added his first NHL goal and fellow rookie Fedor Tyutin also scored to help the Atlantic Division-leading Rangers improve to 3-0-1 at home.

Despite Lundqvist's strong play, Rangers coach Tom Renney said Weekes will start when he is healthy. But Lundqvist, a seventh-round pick in the 2000 draft, is seven years younger than Weekes and might be the long-term netminder the team has needed since Mike Richter's retirement.

"I want to stay here for a long time, but you never know," Lundqvist said. "It can change so fast. If I get the chance, I'd love to play many more years and make the playoffs for many years here."

Snow has played well for the Islanders over their last two games while starter Rick DiPietro is recovering from a concussion, but has surrendered five goals in going 1-1-0.

DiPietro was injured during Thursday night's 5-3 win at Washington when he was hit in the head as he tried to dive for a loose puck midway through the second period.

Snow replaced the 24-year-old and gave up one goal to get the victory before starting on Saturday at Philadelphia and making 41 saves in a 5-1 loss to the Flyers.

"If it wasn't for Garth, it might have been 20-1," Islanders coach Steve Stirling said.

DiPietro, the top overall pick in the 2000 draft, returned to practice on Monday but will most likely serve as backup to Snow in this game.

"He looks good and feels well," Islanders general manager Mike Milbury said. "He has been cleared to play by our doctors."

The Islanders haven't beaten the Rangers since a 3-1 win at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 23, 2002. The home-and-home set concludes at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night.

STANDINGS (through Oct. 17): Islanders - 4 points, 3rd place (tied), 6 PB, Atlantic Division. Rangers - 10 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Islanders - Jason Blake, 3 goals; Oleg Kvasha, 4 assists; Blake, Kvasha and Alexei Yashin, 4 points; Eric Godard, 17 PIM. Rangers - Jagr, 6 goals and 10 points; Martin Straka, 9 assists; Darius Kasparaitis, 16 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Oct. 17): Islanders - Power play: 11.4 percent (4 for 35), 24th in NHL. Penalty killing: 88.6 percent (39 for 44), 7th. Rangers - Power play: 23.4 percent (11 for 47), 6th. Penalty killing: 91.4 percent (43 for 47), 4th.

GOALTENDERS: Islanders - Snow (1-1-0, 3.95 GAA); DiPietro (1-2-0, 3.17). Rangers - Lundqvist (3-0-1, 1 SO, 1.24); Weekes (1-1-1, 3.32) or Chris Holt (no appearances).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 6-0.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 26, 2004; Rangers, 6-3. At Uniondale, N.Y., Jagr had two goals and an assist as Renney won in his first game after taking over for Glen Sather.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Islanders - 1-2-0 on the road; Rangers - 3-0-1 at home.


Associated Press

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