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Rangers beat Islanders in shootout
By IRA PODELL, AP Sports Writer
Mar 6, 2007 - 4:41:26 AM

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NEW YORK - Rick DiPietro was too busy stopping shots to count them.

He knew there were a lot and he knew he couldn't rest.

"I don't pay attention to it," he said. "You try to keep your focus on making the next save."

DiPietro stopped an Islanders-record 56 shots, but came up one shy in the shootout and took a hard-luck 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Monday night in the New York-New York matchup that was the only game on the NHL schedule.

The 25-year-old DiPietro, in the first season of a 15-year, $67.5 million deal with the Islanders, was brilliant in making his career-high 15th straight start. He turned aside 17 shots in the first period, 19 more in the second, and 18 in the third ? his only blemish in regulation was a rebound goal by Petr Prucha in the opening minute of that frame.

Matt Cullen scored the only goal in the shootout. That was enough to beat DiPietro in a game that had playoff implications and a postseason atmosphere.

"He was the best player on the ice," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. "He's the reason we got one point."

As far as the Rangers and Islanders are concerned, the playoffs have already begun.

The Rangers' second straight shootout victory lifted them into a 10th-place tie in the Eastern Conference, two places and two points behind Carolina and the playoff cutoff. The seventh-place Islanders are three points ahead of Carolina.

"We just have to win enough," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "We've had our eye on a certain number for weeks."

Henrik Lundqvist made the one extra save that DiPietro couldn't. Lundqvist, playing after a one-game rest following a streak of 19 straight starts, turned aside Randy Robitaille in the shootout.

DiPietro stopped Michael Nylander in the first round, gave up Cullen's goal in the second, and made a save on Jaromir Jagr in the final round. He could only watch as Lundqvist used his blocker to deny Robitaille on the game's last shot.

"It's my job to make as many saves as I can. I was able to do that for the most part," said DiPietro, who expects to start the 16 remaining regular-season games.

Jason Blake scored the lone goal for the Islanders, who won the first four from the Rangers this season and have points in 18 of 20 games overall (12-2-6). The teams will meet three more times on Long Island, including Thursday night.

"We know we can play a lot better," Nolan said. "We'll lick our wounds and get ready for the rematch."

The Rangers snapped a five-game losing streak to the Islanders, a run that matched the worst stretch against their biggest rival since the series began in 1972.

Lundqvist made 29 saves for the Rangers, who went 3-1-2 on a season-high, six-game homestand. Four were decided in shootouts.

"Huge points for us," Cullen said. "Nothing we can sit on because we play them in a couple of days."

In a first period otherwise dominated by the Rangers, the Islanders grabbed the lead with 1:43 left. Blake took advantage during the Islanders' first power play, sending a shot off the leg of Rangers defenseman Paul Mara that caromed past Lundqvist.

Blake extended his career high with his 33rd goal.

The Rangers held a 17-6 shots advantage in the first period and 36-19 through 40 minutes, yet they couldn't dent DiPietro.

They needed only 26 seconds of the third to get even. Jed Ortmeyer fired a hard shot from inside the blue line that DiPietro kicked out, but Prucha quickly got to the fat rebound and fired a shot in for his 16th goal and third in seven games.

Then the action turned frantic as the Rangers sought their first lead.

They peppered DiPietro relentlessly around the 7-minute mark, forcing him to spin to make saves and keeping the puck buried in the Islanders' zone. He even deflected a shot with his blocker while facing away from pressure.

"We wanted to shoot the most pucks we could at the net," Jagr said. "Hopefully we are going to score some ugly goals. It didn't happen but maybe next game. He has to be tired after 50 shots."

Lundqvist was solid, too. He was bailed out when Andy Hilbert's shot during a breakaway hit the left post.

Sean Avery was at his agitating best in the opening 5 minutes of the game, goading DiPietro into punching him with a glove to draw a roughing penalty. But it was Avery who was left raising his arms in disgust and frustration when DiPietro stopped his shot in close with 5:46 left in regulation for save No. 50.

Notes:@ Rangers LW Martin Straka returned after missing three games (shoulder). But LW Marcel Hossa went out in the second period with a sprained MCL in his left knee. ... Islanders captain Alexei Yashin, who missed his 16th straight game (knee), is expected to return Thursday. ... The Islanders allowed 50 shots in a 5-4 shootout victory at Anaheim on Oct. 11. ... The only period the Islanders led in shots was overtime (3-2). ... Billy Smith and Felix Potvin both stopped 55 shots as Islanders.

Copyright 2007 - MOP Squad Sports

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