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Rangers rally, deny Flyers home ice

by Brian Hunter
Thanks to Blair Betts, the Philadelphia Flyers will be hitting the road to begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Betts scored his first goal in 34 games midway through the third period and the New York Rangers closed out the regular season with a 4-3 win Sunday at the Wachovia Center, costing the Flyers the fourth seed and home ice in their first-round Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against Pittsburgh.

Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter and Daniel Briere scored for the Flyers, who took three separate one-goal leads, including 3-2 heading into the third. But the Rangers tied the score at 4:35 when Sean Avery recorded his eighth goal of the season -- half of them came against Philadelphia -- and Betts beat Martin Biron at 9:02 for the decisive tally.

"I thought we showed a lot of intensity and rose to the occasion in the first two periods," Briere said. "I don't really know what happened in the first 10 minutes of the third period. It seemed like we didn't have as much energy when we needed it. I'm disappointed with the way we played with the lead."

Brandon Dubinsky erased a pair of deficits for the Rangers by scoring once on the power play and again shorthanded -- the first time all season the Flyers gave up a goal while they enjoyed the man advantage. New York opens the playoffs on the road against second-seeded Washington.

"It was nice to get a couple … hopefully it's a bit of a confidence-booster heading into the playoffs," Dubinsky said. "We get to start a new season here and get a fresh start and get a chance to try to win a Stanley Cup, so it's exciting."

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 28 saves and earned his career-high 38th victory. Lundqvist will be a focal point of the upcoming series against the Capitals, who possess the NHL's leading goal scorer in Alex Ovechkin and the top goal-scoring defenseman in Mike Green.

"They have a lot of power offensively and we have to be aware of when he's on the ice, especially No. 8," Lundqvist said. "They're a good team. They're second in the East, they've been playing well all year. We're starting to feel pretty good about ourselves. It's going to be a challenge, but it's going to be a fun one."

The Flyers' challenge will be paying back the Penguins for a five-game ouster in last season's Eastern Conference final. They could have turned the tables and opened the series in Philadelphia this time if they secured at least one point against the Rangers, but after Briere scored off a deflection 2:19 into the second, their offense shut down.
"I liked a lot of things we did but I didn't like that we gave up so many goals and lost the hockey game," Flyers coach John Stevens said.

Dubinsky answered a pair of goals by the Flyers in the first to lift the Rangers into a 2-2 tie after 20 minutes. Giroux opened the scoring at 5:26 but Dubinsky was the recipient of a lucky bounce when he got a piece of a Derek Morris shot that went off the skate of Flyers defenseman Matt Carle and scooted between Biron's pads.

Carter put the Flyers back in front by scoring on the power play at 12:36 for his career-high 46th goal of the season, second in the League only to Ovechkin. The Rangers were shorthanded again moments later when Dubinsky scored off a rush with 5:13 left. It was the first shorthanded goal Philadelphia had allowed in 104 games, breaking the longest such streak since Montreal went 122 games from March 1975 to November 1976 without surrendering one.

In the end, the Flyers seemed more disappointed with the loss than having to start the playoffs in Pittsburgh.

''I think this group has always found a way to do it the hard way, but they have always found a way to do it,'' Stevens said. ''It's an exciting matchup with great young players on both teams and great stories throughout the year on both teams.''

Added Briere: ''We were going to have to play there at some point anyway. If we get to a Game 7, we'll talk it about if we get there.''

Blackhawks 3, Red Wings 0 | Video

Nikolai Khabibulin stopped all 37 shots he faced and Chicago finished the regular season by sweeping a home-and-home with Detroit -- a good mental boost for the Blackhawks should the Central Division rivals meet during the Western Conference playoffs.

For now, fourth-seeded Chicago will prepare to open up against Calgary in the first round. Andrew Ladd, Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland scored to complete a 6-0-1 run that gave the Blackhawks 104 points, an improvement of 16 over last season.

"It was nice to get a couple … hopefully it's a bit of a confidence-booster heading into the playoffs. We get to start a new season here and get a fresh start and get a chance to try to win a Stanley Cup, so it's exciting." -- Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky
"We're happy we got home ice. Everybody looks at the success we had against them this year, but that obviously means nothing at this point," Toews said of the Flames, against whom the 'Hawks won all four regular-season meetings.

"It's a new season, a new beginning. We're happy to be here at home. We got a lot of momentum going and we got to build off that. And obviously don't let off the gas pedal for a second."   

Chicago finished 24-9-8 at United Center with the win and established itself a little against Detroit, which had won the first four meetings this season, including the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.

"It's definitely nice to finish on a high note. The game didn't mean much for either team, but you want to have good habits going into the playoffs," said Khabibulin, who earned his 41st career shutout.

"For a goalie, I think anytime you get a shutout it's good. Having said that, you know tomorrow is another day and the regular season doesn't matter anymore."

Detroit is probably glad for that fact after going 3-6-1 down the stretch to finish with the West's second seed, five points behind San Jose. Its opponent for the first round, Columbus, will be making the first playoff appearance in franchise history.

"It's good we got this over with and no one got hurt in these last two games," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "You always like to go into the playoffs rolling. We're not going into the playoffs rolling. We get a day off tomorrow and get prepared. It's not like we haven't been through it before. We understand what it takes and how hard it is going to be."

Strong skating and passing plays by Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Seabrook led to Ladd being wide open for his 15th of the season 7:29 into the first period. Toews got his team-leading 34th four minutes later by skating through the crease and reaching back to jam the puck under Chris Osgood.

Khabibulin started strong, with 17 first-period saves, and stopped Johan Franzen on a shorthanded breakaway early in the third. Bolland followed by converting on the power play for Chicago's third goal 4:50 into the third.

"I was seeing the puck pretty well. I got lucky a couple of times. That's usually how you get shutouts," Khabibulin said.

Babcock praised the opposition's goaltending performance.

"He must have five, six, seven Grade A chances. He was outstanding," he said of Khabibulin.

Bruins 6, Islanders 2 | Video

Boston, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, geared up for its first-round Original Six matchup with Montreal by cruising to victory at Nassau Coliseum, giving the Bruins 53 wins and 116 points for the regular season.

Phil Kessel finished with a hat trick and added an assist for a four-point game and Tim Thomas stopped 32 shots for his 36th win of the season.

''We were able to score some goals,'' Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. ''We gave a better effort than we did yesterday.''

Boston got smoked in Buffalo on Saturday, 5-1, but got well in a hurry against the Islanders. Michael Ryder scored 23 seconds after the opening faceoff to start the onslaught, Kessel notched a pair and the Bruins also got goals from Marc Savard and Chuck Kobasew in opening up a 5-0 lead by late in the second period.

''We played a team that was out of it yesterday, and we were just absolutely atrocious,'' Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward said. ''Today was more or less a chance for us to right the ship.''

Radek Martinek scored late in the second and Doug Weight early in the third for the Islanders, who dropped their fourth straight and closed the season last in the overall standings. After they made it a 5-2 game, Kessel completed his three-goal effort off a one-timer with 7:07 remaining.

''It's not fun winding up the worst team in the League,'' Weight said. ''It can only get better from here.''

The Islanders did show improvement in the second half, putting together a four-game win streak at one point and a 5-1-1 stretch later. They also finished 17-18-6 at home, just missing a .500 record.

''We have some elements of team identity to carry over into next season,'' coach Scott Gordon said. ''The second half of the season flew by with the attitude and commitment we had.''
Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.

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