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High five: Rangers top Isles to extend streak

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Colton Orr beats Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro on a wraparound at 10:37 of the second period, to put the Rangers up 1-0 on Sunday afternoon at the Nassau Coliseum.

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The Rangers came into the weekend knowing that a sweep of their games against Boston and the Islanders would propel them into sixth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference and enable them to tie their season-high winning streak of five games.

Mission accomplished.

Working tirelessly for the extra point that would push them ahead of Tampa Bay into sixth on Sunday afternoon at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Rangers came through with their most important victory over the New York Islanders since the teams met in the 1994 playoffs.

Michael Nylander's power-play goal with 49 seconds remaining in overtime gave the Rangers a 2-1 win over the Islanders that not only pushed the Blueshirts into sixth but also denied their rivals a chance to enter the playoff picture.

Although the Isles got a point from the game, they still rank ninth overall in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers, meanwhile, are flying high, and are now in a position to open the playoffs against the Southeast Division winner rather than powerhouses Buffalo or New Jersey.

Last season, the Rangers also went into the playoffs with a No. 6 seed, considered a disappointment at the time. One year later, sixth place has a very sweet ring for a team that had been facing potential elimination before going on the 10-1-3 tear that has led it to the brink of a second straight postseason appearance. The amazing 14-game stretch since the NHL trade deadline now includes the team's longest winning streak since another five-game run in December.

They still have yet to clinch a playoff berth, but the Rangers now have a four-point cushion over teams outside the playoff picture heading into their final six games. The Blueshirts would likely be able to clinch their berth by winning just three of those games, particularly if their wins come against Toronto, the Islanders and Montreal.

Sunday's winning goal came from just outside the crease, where Nylander redirected a heads-up pass from Brendan Shanahan only 24 seconds after Islanders defenseman Sean Hill was sent off for hooking Jaromir Jagr in the Isles zone.

Setting up on the 4-on-3 power play at the top of the left faceoff circle, Shanahan alertly saw Nylander alone in front of Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro. His pass found Nylander's stick, and the Rangers center slid it home for his 23rd goal of the season.

Nylander wasn't the only hero for the Rangers on Sunday, because the man of the hour was truly goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 34 shots to earn No. 1 star honors for the second straight afternoon. No netminder in the entire NHL is hotter than Lundqvist right now, as he is making a case for Vezina Trophy consideration based on a performance that has seen him allow just 17 goals over his past 12 starts.

Lundqvist outdueled DiPietro on Sunday, although the Isles goalie was also sharp with 32 saves. Ironically, the only Rangers player who scored against him in regulation was fourth-liner Colton Orr, whose hard-working goal put the pressure on the home team for the rest of the game.

The Islanders had tied the score at 1-1 when Alexei Yashin tallied on a power play at 7:37 of the third period. Yashin's man advantage goal, scored on a redirection of Tom Poti's pass from the left circle marked the first time in 27 shorthanded situations that the Rangers had been scored on -- a streak that dated back to a March 16 game in Atlanta.

Yashin's goal came with only 20 seconds left in a hooking penalty to Sean Avery that had followed a holding call against Jed Ortmeyer, giving the Isles their second 5-on-3 advantage.

The Rangers had their own 5-on-3 opportunity for 1:09 later in the period when Jason Blake and Poti were penalized within 51 seconds of each other, but DiPietro held the fort, and it was not until the Rangers next power play opportunity in overtime that the Islanders penalty killers finally cracked.

The Rangers have now won three straight over the Islanders with one game remaining in the season series. The Islanders had beaten the Rangers in the first four games, and the Blueshirts will have a chance to even matters when the visit the Island again on April 3.

Heading into the tense third period and overtime, the Blueshirts were in control with a 1-0 lead, thanks Orr's goal and Lundqvist's 22 saves.

While Orr provided the offense, and Lundqvist was his typical, impenetrable self in the first two periods, the biggest highlight for the Rangers had to be their sensational penalty killing, which was 6-for-6 in the first 40 minutes, including a brilliant kill on a 92-second two-man Islanders advantage resulting from back-to back penalties against Orr at 16:35 and Ortmeyer at 17:03.

During the second-period 5-on-3, the Rangers allowed only one tough shot through to Lundqvist, a 41-foot slapper by Marc-Andre Bergeron at 18:24.

Lundqvist had been in a goaltending battle with DiPietro right up until Orr scored. Each team had 22 shots through two periods, and even after the Orr goal, DiPietro showed no signs of letting up. He came up with the best save of the game against Petr Prucha at 12:27, during a Rangers power play with Yashin off for hooking.

Prucha nearly made it 2-0 when he took a cross ice pass from Martin Straka just outside the crease to DiPietro's right and fired a one-timer that the Islanders goaltender managed to get back and stop.

DiPietro wasn't so lucky against Orr, a player much less threatening than Prucha in the offensive zone. Orr gave the Rangers their 1-0 lea at 10:37 of the second period, as some tenacious forechecking by the fourth line paid big dividends.

Battling behind the net with teammate Blair Betts and the Islanders' Chris Campoli, Orr emerged from the area behind DiPietro's right and stuffed in a surprise wraparound on the southpaw goalie's glove side. It was Orr's second whack at the puck that jarred it loose from DiPietro, enabling it to trickle over the goal line.

Orr's goal was the second of his NHL career. Earlier this season, Orr had the game-winning tally in a 5-0 victory over Tampa Bay.

The game featured an intense, playoff-style atmosphere from the drop of the puck. The Isles outshot the Blueshirts by a 13-12 margin in the first 20 minutes, but as expected, the scoreless period was all about Lundqvist and DiPietro.

Penalty killing also carried the day for the Rangers in the first period, just as it did 24 hours earlier in Boston, when the Rangers were a perfect 8-for-8 en route to an overtime shootout win.

Against the Islanders, the Blueshirts killed off three power-play opportunities, running their streak of successful kills to 22 straight. They reached the 20 mark just five minutes into today's game, when they denied the Isles during a slashing call against Matt Cullen.

Later in the period, the Rangers killed off Orr's roughing penalty at 9:40 and a late holding call against Ryan Callahan at 18:26. During the Orr penalty, the Rangers shorthanded unit was so effective that it nearly came up with a goal.

Avery had a golden opportunity to put the Blueshirts ahead when he went in on a shorthanded breakaway against DiPietro at 10:28. Looking to thread the needle between the netminder's pads, Avery launched a 28-foot wrister that DiPietro managed to stop to keep the game scoreless.

The Islanders had their best chance to score during heavy pressure that led to Orr's penalty. Pinning the Rangers' fourth line in their own zone, the Islanders kept attacking while Lundqvist had lost his stick and was forced to use Dan Girardi's. The Isles fired five shots during the sequence, but only two got through to Lundqvist, who came up with saves against Miroslav Satan and Viktor Kozlov.
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