NEW YORK (AP) _ Mark Messier spoke about Brian Leetch in hushed tones as he
stood next to his former teammate's eerily empty stall.
Sure the New York Rangers had just earned a rare victory, 3-2 Friday night
over the Washington Capitals, but the postgame questions mostly centered on
Leetch _ traded away two days earlier in a roster purge.
``His place in the team's history and in the hearts of New Yorkers is
well-entrenched,'' Messier said. ``He carried himself on and off the ice in a
way you'd want a Ranger to act.''
The Rangers played their first home game since Leetch, leading forwards Alex
Kovalev and Petr Nedved, and backup goalie Jussi Markkanen were traded.
New York is facing a seventh straight year without a postseason appearance,
and unpopular general manager Glen Sather started a sudden rebuilding phase by
making three major deals in under 24 hours.
Leetch's equipment and nameplate were gone from the space next to Messier's.
His presence was felt, however, in Madison Square Garden _ the arena Leetch
called home for 17 seasons.
Those who attended Friday alternated between derisive chants for Sather and
calls of ``Go Leafs Go!'' and ``We Want Leetch Back!'' Some marched through the
aisles with paper bags covering their heads.
``We came in wanting to win the Stanley Cup,'' Messier said. ``To not even
have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup is disappointing.''
Jason LaBarbera made 19 saves for his first NHL victory and assisted on
Bobby Holik's winning goal.
LaBarbera and former Capitals star Jaromir Jagr set up Holik's goal, scored
with 9:16 left. Messier had a goal and an assist, and Chris Simon also scored
for New York, which snapped a four-game winless streak.
``It was just fun to be out there and the whole atmosphere in the Garden,''
LaBarbera said. ``It was a pretty cool experience.''
Trent Whitfield and Kip Miller had goals for the Capitals, 1-5-1 in their
last seven. Sebastien Charpentier stopped 19 shots in his third start in five
games. Before that, Charpentier hadn't played since Oct. 23 because of a hip
Many fans chose to stay away from this game that pitted the Rangers against
one of the few teams with a worse record than theirs.
``The fans have the right to do and say and express their opinion the way
they want,'' Holik said. ``We've given them plenty of reasons to be the way
they are. All we can do now is just make the rest of the year more pleasant for
The Capitals have more than just a poor record in common with the Rangers.
They, too, are involved in an overhaul of their roster that began in January
when they dealt Jagr to New York.
``We're still trying, even though we're out of the playoffs,'' Charpentier
said. ``Here are two teams cleaning up salaries, getting younger, out of the
playoffs. You got a hell of a game.''
This week, Washington sent defenseman Sergei Gonchar and forward Michael
Nylander to Boston. Robert Lang, near the top of the NHL scoring list, was
dealt to Detroit last Friday _ following the trade that sent Peter Bondra to
Just hours after Gonchar was traded, the Rangers dealt the popular Leetch to
Toronto on Wednesday, making Sather even more of a villain.
``He'll never be forgotten here,'' said forward Matthew Barnaby, another
candidate to be traded away. ``It won't be the last time his name is chanted
New York is 12th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. Washington is mired in
14th, leading only Pittsburgh.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead with 2:27 left in the first period on the 14th
goal by former Capitals player Simon _ another veteran on the block.
Washington tied it at 9:27 of the second while killing a penalty for too
many men on the ice. Jeff Halpern came in on a two-on-one and found Whitfield
in the crease for his first goal in 16 games, dating to the Capitals' last
meeting with the Rangers on Jan. 28. Halpern also set up Miller's power-play
goal 2:21 later.
Messier scored his 17th goal at 13:33 of the second.