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New arrival Kovalev scores empty-net goal

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- High-scoring forward Alexei Kovalev
provided a goal in his first game back with the New York Rangers.
But it was defense and solid goaltending that let them snap a
seven-game winless streak.

Kovalev's empty-net goal with 10.8 seconds left sealed a 3-1
victory over the Florida Panthers and gave Glen Sather his first
victory since he took over as coach Jan. 30, when he fired Bryan
Trottier.

"It was definitely nice to get that goal,'' said Kovalev,
acquired from Pittsburgh in an eight-player trade Monday. "It's a
great feeling, with the team on a winless streak to jump in and win
the game and be a big part of it.''

But the real star Wednesday night was goalie Mike Dunham, who
returned after sitting out two games because of a groin injury and
made 27 saves.

"The second period I thought he made a couple of outstanding
saves,'' Sather said. "He was good. He hadn't played in three days. I
didn't want to go too long without playing him.''

Dunham found out he would be starting on Wednesday morning after
it was reported Sather would go with Dan Blackburn for the third
consecutive game.

"Things change, things happen,'' said Dunham. "It doesn't
really matter who's playing. We just need wins right now.''

Dunham's most important save came early in the third period when
he made a pad stop on Valeri Bure. Bure picked up a loose puck to
the right of Dunham and had the top of the net open. But Bure
couldn't lift the puck over a sprawling Dunham.

"That was all luck,'' Dunham said. "He just shot it and I got
lucky. I was just swinging at that point.''

Sandy McCarthy and Tom Poti also scored for the Rangers, who
were 0-5-1-1 during their winless streak.

Olli Jokinen had the lone Florida goal.

"I think we gave them too much respect,'' said Jokinen.
"Especially in the first period, we were looking at the names on
the back of the jersey: Messier, Lindros, Holik. Those are guys we
watched while growing up.''

Roberto Luongo made 23 saves for Florida.

McCarthy's winner, his second goal of the season and first since
Nov. 29, came at 18:44 of the second period after he stole the puck
from defenseman Pavel Trnka and sent a wrist shot to Luongo's
right. The goal came on McCarthy's first shift of the period.

"It was a good shot,'' Luongo said. "He picked the corner. (A
goalie) always has a chance, maybe if he was farther out. Sometimes
great shots go in.''

The Rangers dominated play in the first period, but had to
settle for a 1-1 tie after the teams traded power-play goals. Poti
gave the Rangers the lead when his cross-ice pass from the right
side went off the skate of Jokinen and beat Luongo to the short
side. It marked the Rangers' sixth consecutive game with at least
one power-play goal.

Jokinen tied the score in the final minute of the period when he
grabbed a loose puck to the left of Dunham and shot it over
Dunham's right shoulder.

"It was a playoff game tonight,'' Luongo said. "Both teams
wanted the two points. We played a decent game, we just couldn't
put the puck in at the end.''

Game notes
Former Panthers and Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck
was inducted into the Panthers' Den of Honor between the first and
second period. Vanbiesbrouck is the second player inducted,
following former team captain Brian Skrudland. ... Pavel Bure and
Brian Leetch, who haven't played since early December because of
injuries, again sat out for the Rangers despite practicing on
Tuesday. Both players are listed as day to day. ... Each team
managed only one shot on goal in the first six minutes of the
second period.