NEW YORK (AP) - Kevin Weekes was still holding court with a small group of reporters in the New York Rangers dressing room when a friendly face stopped by to congratulate him.
Henrik Lundqvist, the rookie who wrested the Rangers No. 1 goalie position away from Weekes, was all smiles after New York's 3-2 shootout victory over the Philadelphia Flyers lifted the Rangers into the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
Michael Nylander scored in regulation and the shootout, and Martin Straka added a goal for the Rangers, who are three points ahead of the Flyers with each team having seven games left.
"This isn't the only goal we have, but it's certainly part of it," general manager Glen Sather said.
Once the Rangers got into overtime, the NHL's longest active playoff drought ended. But New York, a club some picked to finish last in the 30-team league, isn't content with just reaching the postseason. The Rangers are gunning for the division title, too.
"We're speaking kind of casually now that we did clinch a playoff berth, but when you stop and think about what that means and how that looked in August and how that looked in September ... to now be in this position it's very gratifying," Weekes said.
Usually it is Lundqvist who is tucked in the corner of the dressing room after a Rangers win. But his sore hip put him into a suit instead of the net on this night, and left New York's biggest game of the season in the hands of Weekes - who has become a bit of a villain to the home fans who want to see Lundqvist play.
Boos rained on Weekes when New York's 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit by the end of the second period. But he held his ground in the third, made several key saves - including breakaway stops - and heard his name cheered.
"The fans have supported our team all year long and fallen in love with some of our players, certainly my partner Henrik, and that's fine," said Weekes, who earned his first home victory since Nov. 19; he was 0-3-1 in that span. "When they cheer us on, we feed off their positivism."
Weekes did just that.
The biggest of his 21 saves were in the third period when he turned aside Sami Kapanen's short-handed breakaway, made a rolling stop on Joni Pitkanen, and dived across the net to deny Jeff Carter.
During a play stoppage, Weekes' teammates stood up at the bench and smacked their sticks against the boards in appreciation of his effort - the one that earned him a fist tap and back slap from Lundqvist after the game.
Quite a difference from the second frame, when Philadelphia got goals from Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne to take the lead.
"He was outstanding," Nylander said. "He made some unbelievable saves in some critical times. It was great to see."
Jaromir Jagr, who has an NHL-high 115 points, got seven of the Rangers' 18 shots in the period and tied a career best with 12 overall, but didn't directly factor in the goal that tied the game - and gave New York the point it needed to clinch a playoff berth.
Jagr's linemate Nylander won a faceoff in the Philadelphia zone. His shot was stopped by Robert Esche. Straka got to the rebound and snapped in a drive to get the Rangers even 5:34 into the third period.
Jagr, who earlier in the game was stopped on a partial breakaway by Esche and then had another drive snatched by the goalie's glove, has nine of his 52 goals against Esche this season. He helped set up Nylander's goal to extend his point streak to 12 games.
Esche made his second consecutive start over rookie Antero Niittymaki and finished with 38 saves. New York is 4-1-2 against Philadelphia and earned the first home victory for either team in this season's series.
"We have to try to catch them," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We are a team that is getting better almost daily."
Notes: The Rangers recalled G Al Montoya from Hartford of the AHL to serve as Weekes' backup while Lundqvist. ... Knuble, formerly of the Rangers, leads the Flyers in scoring against New York with six goals and two assists.