Sykora scores twice as New Jersey secures position

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- With the season winding down and
the playoffs still in doubt, the New Jersey Devils are finally
starting to look like a team headed to the postseason once again.

Petr Sykora scored twice and the Devils doubled the fun by
improving their playoff hopes and hurting the Rangers' chances with
a 3-1 victory over New York on Saturday.

"It's still fun to beat the Rangers, but these points are big,
and it doesn't matter who you are playing," said Randy McKay,
who got the Devils' other goal. "When you are fighting a team for
a playoff spot, it's that much more important. That it's the
Rangers, it's that much nicer."

The victory enabled New Jersey to solidify its hold on seventh
place in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers dropped to ninth, one
point behind Montreal for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Patrik Elias added three assists and Martin Brodeur made 24
saves as the Devils won their third consecutive game and sent the
Rangers to their eighth defeat in 11 games.

The winning streak is the longest for the Devils since they won
six in a row in the opening weeks of the season. It also gave them
a four-point lead over its cross-river rival in the playoff race.

New Jersey, which was a victory from winning two
consecutive Stanley Cups in June, has played two fewer games.

"It's been a while," Devils captain Scott Stevens said.
"There have been times it's looked like we were ready to go, and
then we took two steps back. Now we have a streak. It would be real
nice to put a good run together."

Sandy McCarthy scored for the Rangers, who have a dozen
regular-season games left to find a way to make the playoffs for
the first time in five years. The last time New York missed the
playoffs five consecutive seasons was 1951-55.

The Rangers have scored seven goals in their last five games,
and only one has been tallied by one of their marquee players.

"It's no different than at any other time of the year, except
we're running out of games," Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch said.
"The games are becoming more and more important."

With both teams fighting for a playoff berth, the game was
high-paced and entertaining with Brodeur and Rangers goalie Mike
Richter providing most of the highlights.

After Sykora and McCarthy exchanged early power-play goals, the
Devils took control with two second-period goals.

Sykora, who had only one goal in his last 18 games, put the
Devils ahead for good at 4:12. Valeri Kamensky did most of the
work, carrying the puck behind the Rangers' net, coming out the
other side and sending a pass through the crease to a wide-open
Sykora for his 18th goal.

"As long as you are getting chances you know there is going to
be a time when the puck goes in," Sykora said. "It could not have
happened at a better time because I felt the game we played today
was one of the most important."

Richter, who faced 26 shots, prevented the Devils from expanding
the lead with great saves on Brian Rafalski in close and another on
a Scott Niedermayer two-on-one chance.

However, McKay broke an 11-game goal drought with a power-play
goal in close at 14:53. Rafalski made a great cross-ice pass from
the right point to set it up.

Brodeur made the save of the game with about nine minutes to play,
stopping Eric Lindros in close on a power play.

Sykora staked the Devils to a 1-0 lead 74 seconds after the
opening faceoff with a shot from the point. Richter had given New
Jersey the power play by shooting the puck into the stands.

McCarthy got his third goal in four games, scoring on the
rebound of Mike York's shot at 3:01. It was the Rangers' first
power-play goal in six games.

Game notes
The sellout crowd of 19,040 was the fourth in a row for the
Devils and their seventh of the season. ... Devils center Jason Arnott
missed his second consecutive game with a back problem. ... New Jersey
won the final three regular-season games with the Rangers, winning
the series 3-1-1. ... Lindros returned to the Rangers lineup after
missing two games with a bruised foot. ... Brodeur is 23-10-11 against the Rangers. ... New Jersey was 2-for-4 on the power play. The
Devils have power-play goals in four consecutive games after failing
to score with the extra man in six in a row.