Series (Game 1 of 1)

Chicago leads 1-0

Game 1: Wednesday, December 11th

Blackhawks 4

(14-12-0, 31 pts)

Rangers 3

(12-15-1, 29 pts)

8:00 PM ET, December 11, 2002

Madison Square Garden, New York, New York

1 2 3 T
CHI 2 1 14
NYR 0 1 23

E. Daze (Blackhawks - LW): Goals: 3, Assists: 0

N. Dempsey (Blackhawks - D): Goals: 0, Assists: 4

J. Thibault (Blackhawks - G): Saves: 46, Save Pct.: .939

Fleury scores third goal in four games

NEW YORK (AP) -- In just four games, Theo Fleury looks like his old self.

He's scoring goals, he's annoying the opposition and he has quite a shiner under his right eye. And, he couldn't be happier.

Theo Fleury

Fleury scored in his return to Madison Square Garden, giving him three goals and four points following an NHL suspension, and the Chicago Blackhawks held on for a 4-3 victory Wednesday night over the New York Rangers.

The diminutive right wing missed 25 games for violating his substance-abuse aftercare program. He hasn't missed a beat since his season started and has points in all four of his games and goals in three.

Fleury played three troubled years with the Rangers before signing with the Blackhawks. He was greeted warmly by Rangers fans when he first took the ice 1:45 in.

"I'll be able to get some sleep now,'' the 34-year-old Fleury said. "It was fun. I didn't know what to expect, but winning definitely helps.''

There were more groans than cheers when he gave Chicago a 1-0 lead at 13:36 with his third goal. Fleury fired a rolling puck from the top of the right circle that beat goalie Dan Blackburn's outstretched right pad.

"If it was flat, I don't think I would've scored,'' Fleury said. "I don't shoot it that hard.''

Fleury thrust his right arm up in celebration as he continued skating and then put both arms in the air as teammates rushed to congratulate him.

"Although I've only been here a short time, I think we've all been through a lot here the past couple of months,'' he said. "I don't think I could have better teammates then the guys that are in the room right now.''

Eric Daze added three goals, and defenseman Nathan Dempsey had a career-high four assists as the Blackhawks won for the second straight night in New York and third in a row overall.

"That's what I love about our team,'' Fleury said. "When we need things to happen, somebody usually steps up.''

Daze had a goal and an assist Tuesday night in a 3-2 win over the Islanders.

Mikael Samuelsson, Petr Nedved and Rico Fata scored for the Rangers, who lost their fourth straight. Despite missing captain Mark Messier because of neck spasms and losing defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre in the second period to a broken right index finger, New York mustered a season-best 49 shots at Jocelyn Thibault, including 20 in a frantic third period.

Fleury scored only 15 goals in a disappointing first season in New York, but responded with 30 in 2000-01 before missing the final 20 games because of a substance-abuse problem. He had 24 goals last season before being let go by the Rangers.

Daze made it 2-0 at 17:02 of the first and then completed his fifth career hat trick at 11:59 of the third as Chicago took a 4-1 lead. He missed the first 15 games this season due to a herniated disk.

The Rangers rallied late to put pressure on the Blackhawks, unbeaten in 47 straight games when leading after two periods.

Thibault allowed only Samuelsson's sixth goal through 40 minutes despite facing 29 shots. Nedved made it 4-2 with 4:47 left and Fata got New York within a goal 1:54 later with the first score of his NHL career. Defenseman Tom Poti, New York's leading scorer, matched a career-high with three assists.

Nedved missed an empty net with 11 seconds left.

"I turned around and the puck was right on his stick for the empty net and I thought 'Oh my God, 4-4.,' but he missed,'' Thibault said.

Fleury was the first to hug Thibault at the final buzzer.

"We wanted to win the game for us but for him, too,'' Thibault said. "I'm sure it meant a lot to him that we pulled it off.''

Blackburn made his 17th straight start for the Rangers in place of injured goalie Mike Richter. He was replaced for the first time in the streak by Johan Holmqvist to start the second period and New York trailing 2-0.

"We started the game well,'' Rangers forward Bobby Holik said. "Just because we were down two goals doesn't mean we played poor in the first period. We showed heart all the way through.''

Blackburn made six saves, and Holmqvist stopped 16 shots in his fourth NHL game and first this season.

Game notes

Fleury is only 5-foot-6, but the lineup card listed him as 6-6. ... The Rangers were also without injured D Brian Leetch, and forwards Pavel Bure and Matthew Barnaby. ... Dempsey had one three-assist game, Feb. 7, 2001, against Atlanta. ... Daze's last hat trick was Dec. 31, 2001. ... The Rangers previous high this season for shots was 36, done twice.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press