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Rangers make their point


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It was not a storybook ending for the night Jaromir Jagr joined the Rangers' exclusive 50-goal club, but the Blueshirts' 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers in an overtime shootout on Friday was good enough to regain sole possession of first place in the NHL's Atlantic Division.

 

By taking the Panthers to overtime, the Rangers moved one point ahead of Philadelphia in the race for a guaranteed top-3 playoff seed. Both teams have now played 70 games this season and two of their final 12 games will come against each other.

 

The shootout at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., ended when its final contestant, Olli Jokinen, slipped a shot through the pads of Rangers goalie Kevin Weekes to give the Panthers a 2-1 edge. Petr Sykora had scored in the shootout for the Rangers to match an earlier goal by Nathan Horton, but Florida goalie Roberto Luongo managed to stop both Michael Nylander and Jagr in setting the stage for Jokinen to end the game.

 

It was the Rangers' second shootout in Florida this season. Back in November, the Blueshirts had beaten the Panthers when Petr Prucha notched the lone shootout goal. The Rangers had also shut out Florida twice this season at Madison Square Garden.

 

Despite the loss, Friday was a history night for the Rangers organization as NHL scoring leader Jagr joined Vic Hadfield and Adam Graves in becoming the third Blueshirts player to reach 50 goals in a season. He achieved thatmark faster than either of his predecessors – scoring No. 50 in his 70th game. He also became the first NHL player to score 50 this year and the first to reach the plateau since Colorado's Milan Hejduk in 2002-03.

 

The goal, which brought Jagr within two goals of Graves' Rangers goal-scoring record and four points of Jean Ratelle's team points record, was scored in typical Jagr fashion. He took a pass from Nylander just inside the blue line across from Luongo and skated in to the middle of the slot area. Faking a shot, he drew Luongo out of position and then leaned to his left for a hard, high forehand that blew past Luongo at 14:33.

 

Five of Jagr's 50 goals this season have come at Luongo's expense.

 

In addition to joining the Rangers' 50-goal club, Jagr also became the first right wing to reach 50 in a Rangers uniform. The previous mark of 49 goals had been held by Mike Gartner since the end of the 1990-91 season.

 

Friday's shootout was a tough way for Weekes' night to end. The Rangers' goaltender, making his first start since facing Carolina on March 14, was otherwise brilliant on a night when the Blueshirts were outshot 42-28. Weeks turned aside 40 shots – the most saves in one game by a Rangers goaltender this season. He and Luongo turned the game's final 25 minutes into a goaltending clinic, with Weekes making 15 saves to Luongo's 18.

 

It was also a tough way to end a game that got off to a rousing start when Jagr scored his 50th goal of the season for a 1-0 first period lead. Although the Rangers fell behind 2-1 later in the game, they managed to tie it when Sykora scored with 10.7 seconds left in the second period.

 

Sykora's 20th goal of the season had swung momentum back to the Rangers, who continued to play well for the rest of the game but could not beat Luongo. The tall, talented Panthers goalie notched his first win over the Blueshirts in four tries this season.

 

The game-tying goal by Sykora came on a power play after the Rangers had spent much of the second period killing off their own penalties. The period truly was a power-play fest which turned the game in Florida's favor, as the Panther managed to score on one of their four second-period power-plays, including a two-man advantage that lasted for one minute.

 

Midway through the period, back-to-back calls against Marek Malik for hooking at 9:45 and Marcel Hossa for tripping at 10:45 gave the Panthers their 5-on-3. Florida almost scored in that stretch, when Joe Nieuwendyk's shot from just outside the crease to Rangers goaltender Weekes' left hit the far post.

 

Although they were stifled on the two-man advantage, the Panthers finally did solve Weekes on a later power play with their 23rd shot of the game.

 

Horton took a pass at the base of the left faceoff circle and rifled a turnaround wrist shot at Weekes that hit the goalie and dribbled into the net at 15:40. Only 27 seconds remained in a hooking penalty to Tom Poti at the time Horton scored the Panthers' first goal.

 

Horton's goal seemed to spark Florida, which came back just 2:17 later to make it 2-0 on a goal by Gregory Campbell, son of former Rangers assistant coach Colin Campbell.

 

Campbell took a pass from Jozef Stumpel at the top of the left circle and drove it through Weekes' pads from 30 feet away at 17:57.

 

The Rangers finally got their own power-play opportunity at 18:22, when Campbell was called for elbowing. As time ran out in the period, Sykora was able to cash in with only 10.7 seconds remaining. His snap shot from the right side just inside the blue line got through Roberto Luongo's pads for the 2-2 tie.

 

Jagr's goal was the highlight of a first period in which the Rangers offense struggled early. The Blueshirts were outshot 9-4 in the period and had only two shots at Luongo in the first 13 minutes – with nearly 12 minutes elapsing between the shots by Martin Rucinsky and Jed Ortmeyer.

 

Darius Kasparaitis missed his second consecutive game with a strained groin, and the Rangers caught a bad break late in the game, when Rucinsky was slashed across the hand and was unable to continue playing.

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