Rangers 4, Flyers 2

The New York Rangers are in agreement that being in first place

at the two-day Christmas break doesn’t guarantee anything come

April.

But after three wins in four nights against Atlantic Division

foes, the Broadway Blueshirts are more than happy to be on top of

the pack.

Henrik Lundqvist made 28 saves in his second win over powerful

Philadelphia this season, and rookie defenseman Stu Bickel had two

more assists for the Rangers, who beat the Flyers 4-2 on Friday

night.

Though only 33 of 82 games have been played, the Rangers trail

just the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the

Eastern Conference – and the gap is one point.

”There is something to be said for that,” captain Ryan

Callahan said. ”We’re right there at the top, and that gives us

confidence going forward. There’s still a lot of hockey to be

played, and we haven’t seen our best yet.”

Rangers coach John Tortorella is pleased with his team’s

performance and how the club responded to this week’s challenge by

beating New Jersey, the New York Islanders and Philadelphia.

As for the significance of being in first place now, Tortorella

uttered a terse, ”None.”

Bickel, in his third NHL game, helped set up goals by Derek

Stepan and Ruslan Fedotenko in the second period. He has four

assists since being recalled from the AHL, hitting the score sheet

in every game. Of the Rangers’ seven assists in the game, six were

earned by defensemen.

”It’s been awesome,” Bickel said of his brief NHL stint. ”It

has been a whirlwind since being called up, but it’s nice being

able to jump in and kind of play a role right away and contribute a

little bit.”

Marian Gaborik added his league-leading 21st goal early in the

third period and Callahan netted a power-play tally for the Rangers

(21-8-4), who jumped over the Flyers (21-9-4) in the Atlantic with

their fourth straight win.

Fans chanted, ”First Place!” as the final minutes ticked

down.

The Flyers own the NHL’s best road record (13-4-2), but you

wouldn’t know it from their two trips to Madison Square Garden,

where they have scored only two goals. The Rangers beat them 2-0 on

Nov. 26 behind Lundqvist’s 29 saves.

”We played a great game,” Lundqvist said. ”Everyone was ready

for it. It was a great test. We really wanted to end this week in a

good way going into the break. We feel good about ourselves, our

game and where we are right now.”

Andrej Meszaros spoiled Lundqvist’s bid for another shutout when

he scored a power-play goal with 9:39 left, and James van Riemsdyk

made it 4-2 with 2:10 to go.

Philadelphia’s offense was hampered without center Danny Briere,

who missed the game because of an injury to his right ring finger,

sustained in Wednesday’s 4-1 win at Dallas. The Flyers, who entered

with a league-high 116 goals and 3.52 per game, are 1-2-1 since a

seven-game winning streak.

”We had all of our skill guys out,” Flyers forward Jaromir

Jagr said. ”On our chances, we just didn’t have any clear looks to

the net, and when we did, Henrik was stopping it.”

Ilya Bryzgalov made 20 saves in the loss.

The Flyers’ next chance to knock off the Rangers will come on

Jan. 2 in the outdoor Winter Classic in Philadelphia.

”I think it builds up for the Winter Classic,” Flyers coach

Peter Laviolette said. ”We’ve got a few games we need to take care

of before that. The Rangers are a good team, we’ve had a good year.

It probably does add a little fuel.”

The Rangers broke the scoreless deadlock with the first of their

two deflected goals in the second period.

Stepan made it 1-0 at 10:18 when he got the blade of his stick

on a right-point drive by Bickel and squeezed the puck just inside

the right post, past the surprised Bryzgalov, who thrust his head

up in disbelief.

Bickel struck again 5:12 later when another shot from the right

point caught the stick of Fedotenko, surged into the net off the

back bar and bounded back out. The red light went on and the

Rangers began to celebrate, but the goal was waved off by the

officials. At the next stoppage, a video review determined the goal

was good. It was Fedotenko’s fifth of the season, but his first

point in 10 games since he scored Dec. 3 at Tampa Bay.

Gaborik broke free and gave the Rangers a 3-0 lead 1:48 into the

third. The goal came with a painful price as he was struck near his

left shoulder by the stick of Meszaros. No one has been able to

slow him down recently as Gaborik scored for the fourth straight

game, with six goals in the spurt.

Callahan made it 4-1 with 5:56 remaining.

While there was a shortage of offense and even quality scoring

chances in the first period, there were plenty of hard hits and

even a few rarely seen hip checks. The biggest was delivered by

Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman, who wiped out Flyers forward

Matt Read by driving him into the boards in front of the

Philadelphia bench with just over 9 minutes left.

The Flyers controlled most of the period and held the Rangers

without a shot until Michael Del Zotto’s drive from the left point

was deflected by Bryzgalov’s blocker and off the crossbar with 5:35

remaining. After being outshot 6-0, the Rangers made a strong

recovery and finished the period at 8 shots apiece.

New York outhit Philadelphia 15-6 in the first, with Bickel

recording five.

NOTES: Bickel had only four points – one goal and three assists

– in 27 games this season with Connecticut of the AHL. … Jagr

played his first game at Madison Square Garden since May 1, 2008,

during his final season with the Rangers before going to Russia’s

KHL. He heard boos often when he touched the puck.