Rangers seal playoff spot

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NEW YORK – Kevin Weekes turned boos into cheers Tuesday night, lifting the New York Rangers into the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

The backup goalie, playing in place of injured Henrik Lundqvist, stopped Peter Forsberg and Michal Handzus in the shootout after making 21 regular saves to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Michael Nylander scored in regulation and the shootout, and Martin Straka added a goal for the Rangers, who stretched their Atlantic Division lead over the Flyers to three points with each team having seven games left.

Once the Rangers got into overtime, the NHL’s longest active playoff drought ended. But New York, a club some picked to finish last in the 30-team league, isn’t content with just reaching the postseason. The Rangers are gunning for the division title, too.

Weekes heard his name chanted when he turned aside Sami Kapanen’s short-handed breakaway, and made a rolling stop on Joni Pitkanen in the third period. Quite a difference from the second period, when Philadelphia got goals from Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne to take a 2-1 lead, and the fans showed their disfavor.

Jaromir Jagr, who has an NHL-high 115 points, got seven of the Rangers’ 18 shots in the period and 12 overall, but didn’t directly factor in the goal that tied the game – and gave New York the point it needed to clinch a playoff berth.

Jagr’s linemate Nylander won a faceoff in the Philadelphia zone. His shot was stopped by Robert Esche. Straka got to the rebound and snapped in a drive to get the Rangers even 5:34 into the third period.

Jagr, who earlier in the game was stopped on a partial breakaway by Esche and then had another drive snatched by the goalie’s glove, has nine of his 52 goals against Esche this season.

Esche made his second consecutive start over rookie Antero Niittymaki and finished with 38 saves.

Wild 5, Blues 4

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Brian Rolston scored the winning goal and rookie goaltender Josh Harding stopped two of three shots in the shootout to lift the Minnesota Wild to a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues.

After allowing a goal by Keith Tkachuk in the first round of the shootout, Harding, who was making his first career start, stopped shots by Dean McAmmond and Petr Cajanek to set up Rolston’s game winner.

Minnesota’s leading point scorer took the puck at center ice, skated in on the right side and slid the puck through goaltender Reinhard Divis’ five-hole. The play had to be reviewed before officials ultimately ruled that the puck crossed the goal line.

Divis allowed goals by Mikko Koivu and Rolston in the shootout, which would have ended a round sooner had Minnesota’s Marian Gaborik not hit the post with his attempt.

Mike Glumac had a goal and an assist and McAmmond added two assists for the Blues, who haven’t won in their last 11 games, since a 3-2 victory over Columbus on March 13.

It was quite a debut for the 21-year-old Harding, who made 22 saves after not playing in a game since being called up from Houston of the AHL on March 8.

Wild coach Jacques Lemaire thought he was doing the 21-year-old Harding a favor by giving him his first start at home against one of the league’s worst teams.

So Lemaire rested No. 1 goalie Manny Fernandez for the first time in 14 games, since the Wild traded Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton.

But Minnesota’s defense didn’t do much to help their young goalie, constantly allowing Blues attackers to sneak in on the back side for open shots, especially on the power play.

The Wild’s top-ranked penalty kill unit continued to struggle on Tuesday, two days after allowing Detroit to go 2-for-4 in a 3-2 loss.

Lee Stempniak and Glumac scored on nearly identical power-play goals in the first and second period to help St. Louis to a 2-1 lead.

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