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Rangers-Flyers Preview

GAME: New York Rangers (31-15-8) at Philadelphia Flyers (31-14-8).

TIME: Saturday, 2 p.m. EST.

To take the Atlantic Division lead away from the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Rangers might want to avoid overtime.

Five days after another heartbreaking loss to their division rivals, the Rangers try to grab sole possession of first place when they meet the Flyers at the Wachovia Center.

Jaromir Jagr and Martin Rucinsky staked New York to a 2-0 lead on Monday against Philadelphia, but Henrik Lundqvist allowed goals to Joni Pitkanen and Mike Richards in the final 10 minutes of regulation. Pitkanen beat Lundqvist for the game-winner 88 seconds into overtime and the Flyers won 3-2.

"It was a tough loss. We had the lead, but things like this happen every once in a while," said Lundqvist, who finished with 37 saves. "Of course I'm very disappointed."

On Jan. 5, Simon Gagne scored seven seconds into overtime to give the Flyers a 4-3 victory at Madison Square Garden.

The only other meeting between the teams came in the season opener and New York won 5-3 at Philadelphia.

Since Monday's loss, the Rangers have bounced back to win two straight to move into a tie with the Flyers atop the division.

Kevin Weekes made 23 saves to earn his first win since Dec. 10 as the Rangers beat the New York Islanders 5-2 on Thursday.

"The guys really tried to pick me up," Weekes said. "We have a lot of character guys on this team and they were very vocal. Heck, they were sacrificing their faces to block shots for me tonight."

Martin Straka, who scored on a penalty shot and added two assists, said the Rangers played a complete game.

"All four lines played well. Plus, we had a good start and that's so important," said Straka, who has a goal and six assists during a four-game points streak.

Philadelphia is coming off a 4-2 loss Thursday to the Buffalo Sabres. Gagne and Mike Knuble scored and U.S. Olympic selection Robert Esche made 33 saves in his fourth start since returning from a groin injury.

Just as they did against the Rangers on Monday, the Flyers got off to a slow start against Buffalo as they were outshot 16-3 in the opening period.

"We're trying to play catch-up far too often, and that's a hard way to play hockey," coach Ken Hitchcock said.

The Flyers have lost seven of 10, giving up at least four goals in every defeat during that span. They have also lost five of six at home, though they've taken nine of the last 12 home meetings with the Rangers.

"I don't think we need a division title game to motivate us right now," Hitchcock said. "I think what we need is better play for 60 minutes."

STANDINGS: Rangers - 70 points, 1st place (tied), Atlantic Division. Flyers - 70 points, 1st place (tied), Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jagr, 34 goals and 78 points; Jagr and Straka, 44 assists; Darius Kasparaitis, 75 PIM. Flyers - Simon Gagne, 35 goals; Peter Forsberg, 47 assists and 62 points; Mike Knuble, 62 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Rangers - Power play: 16.6 percent (50 for 301), 21st in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.5 percent (273 for 323), 7th. Flyers - Power play: 18 percent (56 for 311), 12th. Penalty killing: 80.3 percent (245 for 305), 23rd.

GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Lundqvist (22-7-6, 2 SO, 2.09 GAA); Weekes (9-8-2, 3.04). Flyers - Esche (13-6-2, 3.07); Antero Niittymaki (18-8-6, 2, 2.92).

SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Monday; Flyers, 3-2 (OT). At New York, Pitkanen had his third two-goal game of the season and Esche made 28 saves.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 14-9-3 on the road; Flyers - 14-8-5 at home.

Associated Press
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