NEW YORK – Martin Straka set up both New York goals, stretching his career-best point streak to 10 games and lifting the New York Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.

Straka earned the second assist on defenseman Michal Rozsival’s first-period goal and then made the key pass to Michael Nylander for another tally in the final frame as the Rangers extended their winning streak to a season-high three games.

Kevin Weekes, in his second home start of the season, made 34 saves and won for the first time since he posted consecutive victories on Nov. 1-2, in California.

The veteran backup was steady throughout and confidently snared most of Florida’s long-range shots with his glove. He seemed poised to comfortably earn his 20th NHL shutout but Panthers defenseman Mike Van Ryn wrecked those plans with 9:55 left, scoring his second of the season and cutting the Rangers’ lead to 2-1.

Weekes often hears boos in rare appearances at Madison Square Garden, but he bounced back from a relief stint at home a week earlier in which he allowed three goals on 13 shots in a loss to the New York Islanders.

Once fans got over the disappointment of not seeing regular goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who posted wins over Pittsburgh and Ottawa this week, they got behind Weekes and chanted his name on several occasions. He made 15 saves in the third period as the Panthers pressed for the tie.

Ed Belfour, playing for just the fourth time in the past 11 games, made 26 saves for the Panthers but failed to earn his 462nd NHL victory, which would have broken a second-place tie on the career list with New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur.

The Rangers took advantage of the NHL’s most-penalized team on their second power play of the game.

Jaromir Jagr forced Bryan Allen’s hooking penalty by cutting, darting, and getting free inside the Panthers’ zone – leaving Allen little choice but to tug him.

On the power play, Jagr passed the puck from above the left circle across to Rozsival, who darted from the blue line to the right circle and sent a rising shot past Belfour at 10:49.

When Nylander connected in the opening minute of the third, Florida’s hopes of bucking the trend lost every game in which they trailed after any period took a decisive hit.

Rozsival carried the puck up ice and moved it to Straka, who brought it deep into the Panthers’ end. Just as he approached the goal line near the left corner, he dropped the puck into the center of the circle to Nylander, who quickly beat Belfour at 51 seconds for his 11th goal.

Nylander, who left after the first period of the Rangers’ previous home game on Thursday to attend the birth of his daughter, moved into a tie for sixth place in NHL scoring with 37 points.

Notes: The Panthers have never won twice at Madison Square Garden in the same season since entering the NHL in 1993. … Rozsival has registered two points in a game 11 times. The Rangers are 10-0-3 when he has gotten on the score sheet this season. … Straka has seven goals and 11 assists during his streak. … Florida (2-0-1) was trying to earn points in a season-high four straight games.

AP-ES-12-10-06 2136EST


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