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Zherdev leads Rangers past Wild

by Brian Compton
Hello, sixth place.

Nikolai Zherdev had a goal and an assist, and Henrik Lundqvist faced only 19 shots as the New York Rangers moved into a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 win against the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

The victory -- New York's eighth in 11 games -- put the Rangers into sixth and allowed the Blueshirts to move five points ahead of the ninth-place Florida Panthers, who were idle on Tuesday. The Rangers have eight games remaining.

''I know it wasn't the most exciting game for the fans, but that's how you've got to play against a team like that,'' said Rangers forward Sean Avery, who had an assist and a fight with Cal Clutterbuck. ''They play a system that's frustrating, but we just played through it.''

Scott Gomez scored the go-ahead goal for the Rangers, who dropped a 2-1 decision to the Ottawa Senators on home ice two nights earlier. Gomez broke a 1-1 tie in the second period, less than a minute after Marian Gaborik had tied the game for the Wild.

Zherdev notched his 22nd goal of the season in the final seconds of the opening period. With the teams at even strength -- New York went 0-for-5 on the power play -- Zherdev collected his own rebound and patiently waited for Niklas Backstrom to go down before flipping the puck over the Minnesota goalie from the goal line as the Rangers grabbed a 1-0 lead.

''You lose your patience against a Minnesota team, and the way they play, and you allow them to transition, that's when they get you,'' New York coach John Tortorella said. ''We played a little bit of their game. We know they have injuries and they tried to grind one out.

''They played well, but we didn't blow ourselves up in trying to do too much in that neutral zone.''

Gaborik, playing in just his second game since returning from hip surgery, scored his fourth goal of the season 91 seconds into the second period. It was Gaborik who scored five times in the last meeting between the teams on Dec. 20, 2007.

''I feel pretty good for the second game. Hopefully I can get much better,'' said Gaborik, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Gomez quickly restored the Rangers' lead when he took a pass in the slot from Avery and one-timed it past Backstrom for his 16th goal of the season.

"That was a big goal by a real leader on this team," Avery said of Gomez.

Gaborik nearly tied the game again late in the second period, when he worked his way behind Rangers' defenseman Dan Girardi and ripped a shot on net, but was denied by Lundqvist.

"Gaborik adds a whole different flavor to that team," Tortorella said. "He's a danger every time he is on the ice. But we did a pretty good job on him tonight."

The Wild, below the playoff cutoff line in the West, lost ground in the opener of a four-game road trip -- falling for the third time in five games. They are playing without captain Mikko Koivu, who will be out at least a week due to a knee injury sustained Sunday. With 184, the Wild have scored the second-fewest goals in the West.

Minnesota was awarded only two power plays on Tuesday and mustered only 10 shots on goal through the first two periods.


'I thought we battled through the whole game,'' Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. ''It looked good that they had a lot of shots compared to us, but a lot of them were not dangerous. Overall, everyone played good. Backstrom played good, our defensemen played really well, but we lack the scoring. You can see it.''

The Rangers were forced to play without defenseman Michal Rozsival, who is expected to miss at least a week with a leg injury. Mike Sauer made his NHL debut for New York and recorded one shot on goal in 13:33 of ice time.

"I think our forwards did a great job of coming back," Rangers defenseman Derek Morris said. "They threw a lot of things to the net and we did a good close of closing the perimeter. Hank made a couple of big saves for us."

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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