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Rangers gain a point, close in on postseason

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers alternate captain Brendan Shahanan scored his first goal since returning from a concussion suffered on Feb. 17.

POSTGAME VIDEO FROM MSG
Renney on Rangers' Game Plan WMP
Ted Nolan on Isles' Playoff Hopes WMP

POSTGAME AUDIO FROM MSG
Jagr on Tuesday Night's Shootout Loss WMP
Lundqvist Discusses Rangers' Performance WMP

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That playoff-clinching win will have to wait at least two more days.

The Rangers came as close as they could to wrapping up their second consecutive playoff berth on Tuesday night at the Nassau Coliseum, taking the Islanders to an overtime shootout before falling 3-2.

Jaromir Jagr, the Rangers' final shooter in the shootout, was stopped by Islanders goaltender Wade Dubielewicz, when the Isles rookie hung with Jagr on a deke to his stick side, ending the game as Jagr's shot trickled wide of the left post.

Dubielewicz's save enabled Miroslav Satan's lone shootout goal to stand up as the winner. After giving up the first shot to Satan, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was spectacular with 32 saves in regulation and overtime, stopped both of the other shooters, Viktor Kozlov and Ryan Smyth.

Because Toronto beat Philadelphia in overtime on Tuesday, the Leafs prevented the Rangers from clinching a playoff berth. Still, the point gained by the Blueshirts for taking the Islanders to overtime all but ensured they will clinch that berth in short order. Toronto would need to win both of its remaining games, and the Blueshirts would need to lose both for the Leafs to displace them in the playoff picture. Because Toronto owns the tie-breaker between the teams, the Rangers' magic number with respect to the Leafs is two points.

In another game on Tuesday, Tampa Bay beat Carolina to move into sixth place. Although the Rangers and Lightning are now tied at 92 points after 80 games, Tampa owns the tie-breaker on the strength of having more wins.

The Rangers will have a chance to clinch their berth at home against Montreal on Thursday. By winning that game, their postseason ticket will be punched, regardless of what happens to the Leafs. Even if the Rangers fall to the Habs in either regulation or overtime, they could still reach the playoffs if the Islanders can defeat Toronto at home on Thursday.

Dubielewicz, called up to the Isles as a replacement for injured Rick DiPietro, turned in a performance worthy of the Islanders' franchise goalie. He finished the game with 36 saves, including all three shootout stops, to earn No. 1 star honors.

Although the Islanders goalie managed to steal the show, it was a big night for Lundqvist as well, particularly in the third period and overtime. Lundqvist stopped 16 shots in the third and two in the OT as the desperate Islanders threw everything they had at him. Lundqvist also caught an important break at the 9:32 mark of the third when Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt hit the crossbar. The Rangers goalie was later forced to make a tremendous save on Witt from the left faceoff circle. That third-period performance forced overtime, preserving the point for the Rangers.

Late in the final period, during an Islanders power play that resulted from a holding penalty to Paul Mara, Lundqvist stood up to the heavy pressure. He refused to crack even after losing his stick for one stretch, which finally ended when the Blueshirts managed to clear the zone.

The Islanders' power play carried into the overtime, and Lundqvist came up with a spectacular save on Jason Blake just 39 seconds into the extra period.

In keeping their playoff hopes alive with the victory, the Islanders also survived a second-period collapse in which they squandered a 2-0 lead. The home team appeared to be rolling behind a first-period goal from Arron Asham and a second-period tally from Alexei Yashin. But a two-goal Rangers blitz over a span of 3:50 burst the Isles' bubble, which didn't fully reinflate until the shootout was over.

Brendan Shanahan got the Rangers' big second-period comeback rolling with a shorthanded goal, and Michael Nylander scored at even strength, as the Blueshirts, who had outshot the Isles 31-16 through two periods, took control of the game.

Perhaps it was only appropriate that the Rangers got back into the game by coming back from a two-goal deficit. The Islanders' failure to protect their advantage -- something the Rangers themselves struggled with earlier in the season -- turned out to be their undoing in the middle period. On both of their goals, the Rangers managed to capitalize on turnovers by the Islanders – one just inside the Rangers zone during a power play and the other in the defensive zone at even strength.

Frustrated by Dubielewicz for nearly 30 minutes, the breakthrough goal came from an inspirational source, as Shanahan burned the Isles on a shorthanded situation with Jed Ortmeyer off for tripping.

Just over 30 seconds remained in the penalty kill, when the Islanders coughed up the puck just inside the Rangers zone, sending Shanahan and Martin Straka on a 2-on-1. Shanahan came down the right side with Straka just to his left on the other side of the slot. Unable to thread a pass through to Straka, he blasted a shot at the net. Dubielewicz made the stop, but the puck bounced behind him off the end boards. Shanahan alertly chased it down and fired a shot off the goaltender's leg and into the net, making it a 2-1 game at 9:02.

Shanahan's goal was his first since coming back from a concussion that sidelined him for the second half of February and most of March. It was also his 29th tally of the season, pulling him into a tie with Jagr and Straka for the team lead.

That goal seemed to provide the Rangers all of the momentum they needed, and less than four minutes after Shanahan scored, the Rangers had pulled into a 2-2 tie. Jagr started the play after pulling the puck away from the reach of Isles defenseman Brendan Witt, who had misplayed it in the left faceoff circle of his own zone.

Taking full advantage on Witt's mistake, Jagr circled behind the net from right to left and threaded a cross-slot pass to Nylander, who calmly deked Dubielewicz before depositing the puck just under the crossbar for his career-high 26th goal of the season.

Nylander's tally broke his previous career-high of 25, set with Chicago in 2000-01. That was also the last season that the Rangers had four 25-goal scorers, which they have again in Nylander, Straka, Jagr and Shanahan.

The Blueshirts got numerous scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes, but Dubielewicz answered the call, making several big saves, including one on a late breakaway by Straka with only 1:19 to go. Islanders defenseman Tom Poti, however, drawing an interference penalty on that play.

The Islanders notched the first period's lone goal at the 2:52 mark, when Randy Robitaille's initial shot on goal from the left faceoff circle was deflected by a Rangers defender into the crease. Lundqvist kept the puck away from the net with his right pad, but Asham suddenly emerged from behind the goal to jam home a shot for a 1-0 lead before the Blueshirts had a chance to clear the puck to safety.

Following the Asham goal, the Rangers picked up their offense, getting quality chances on a shot by Sean Avery from the slot at 5:44 and a Ryan Callahan deflection that Dubielewicz managed to stop at 7:16.

Lundqvist was also sharp, making a big save against Chris Campoli from the slot at 8:55. He later robbed Mike Sillinger, again from the slot, at 12:17. Sillinger had taken a feed from Smyth as the Isles came into the Rangers zone on a 3-on-2.

Dubielewicz made his share of saves later in the period, including one on a shot by Straka from just outside the crease to his right at 14:46. Straka's better chance came with only 1:15 to go, when he stripped the puck away from an Islanders defenseman in the high slot and cruised in for a breakaway. Looking to deke Dubielewicz on the stick side, he ran out of room, and the Isles goalie came up with the save as Poti was whistled for interference on the play.

Alexei Yashin made it a 2-0 game at 5:02 of the second period, when his centering pass from Satan hit defenseman Jason Strudwick on its way to the net and went past Lundqvist on the stick side. The goal was originally credited to Satan, but video review showed Yashin had been the last Islanders player to touch the puck.

The atmosphere was certainly charged at the Coliseum on Tuesday. The Rangers took the ice to loud chants of "Let's Go Rangers" in a building where allegiances were very close to a 50-50 split. The large turnout of Rangers fans was no doubt boosted by a combination of the team's potential to clinch a postseason berth and the Islanders' waning playoff hopes.

Now, they'll have a chance to wrap it up at home, where the Rangers can be sure the entire crowd will be on their side Thursday night.
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