Series (Game 3 of 6)

Series tied 3-3

Game 1: Wednesday, November 12th
Game 2: Friday, November 28th
Game 3: Saturday, January 3rd
Game 4: Sunday, March 7th
Game 5: Sunday, March 21st
Game 6: Tuesday, March 23rd

Rangers 4

(16-14-3, 40 pts)

Penguins 1

(9-22-3, 26 pts)

1:00 PM ET, January 3, 2004

Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1 2 3 T
NYR 1 1 24
PIT 0 0 11

M. Messier (Rangers - C): Goals: 0, Assists: 2

J. Markkanen (Rangers - G): Saves: 40, Save Pct.: .976

B. Holik (Rangers - C): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

Markkanen leads NY with 40 saves

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- There were too many former Pittsburgh players wearing the Rangers' blue shirts for New York to let up against the bottom-dwelling Penguins.

Mark Messier set up the Rangers' first two goals and Jussi Markkanen withstood a penalty shot and a sizable Pittsburgh shots advantage to lead New York past the Penguins 4-1 Saturday.

"If it hadn't been for Jussi, then we probably could have lost the game," Rangers coach Glen Sather said of Markkanen, who stopped 40 shots. "He played very well, stopped a couple of breakaways, stopped a penalty shot. He was real sharp."

Two excellent passes by Messier created goals by former Penguins forwards Dan LaCouture in the first period and Petr Nedved in the second to help the Rangers close a 3-1 road trip that began with victories in Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Bobby Holik had a goal and an assist in the final 5½ minutes after Pittsburgh had cut it to 2-1.

"Pittsburgh plays hard, and we knew they would come back," LaCouture said. "We wanted to get back (to a multiple-goal lead) as quickly as we could."

The Rangers have won three straight in Pittsburgh dating to last season, the first time that's happened since they won their final game there in the 1983-84 season and their first two in the 1984-85 season.

New York sent a not-so-subtle message in the opening minute that it wouldn't be distracted by the Penguins' unimposing 9-22-5-3 record when Eric Lindros leveled defenseman Dan Focht with a hard but clean check into the boards. Focht left with an apparent concussion.

Not only did the Penguins not respond to Lindros' physical play, they appeared to back off. Less than a minute later, LaCouture scored only his second goal of the season off Messier's on-the-tape pass with 1:50 gone.

Alexei Kovalev, another of the five former Penguins who played for New York, cut across the middle and fed Messier in the right circle, and Messier found LaCouture driving to the net.

"I got a great pass," LaCouture said.

Pittsburgh, losing its third afternoon game in four days, had a chance to get back in it when the Rangers -- the NHL's most-penalized team -- spent most of the second half of the period killing three penalties.

But the Penguins didn't come close to getting the puck past Markkanen during that stretch. The Rangers' backup also kept the Rangers up 1-0 midway through the second, cleanly stopping Eric Meloche's penalty shot awarded when Boris Mironov pulled down Meloche on a short-handed breakaway.

"He's on top of the puck right now," Holik said of Markkanen, who had two of the Rangers' three victories on the road trip. "When you're on top of it, the rebounds don't lay there in front of you and get (knocked) in ... he's pushing it to the corners or out."

On the first penalty shot by a Penguins player at home since Martin Straka scored against St. Louis on Jan. 19, 2000, Markkanen immediately came out of the net to challenge Meloche. Rather than putting on a move to go around the goalie, he shot directly into the pads.

"Alexei gave me a heads-up and said he might go to the 5-hole and that's why I covered there," said Markkanen, who improved to 7-4-1.

Meloche didn't intend to try to go between the goalie's pads.

"The ice wasn't very good and I played a different shot than I wanted to," Meloche said. "I wanted to go under him and get it behind him. But the puck started to bounce on me and I just felt if he went back any further, I could go it through the 5-hole."

Meloche, playing his fourth game since being called up from the minors, did make it 2-1 with 6½ minutes remaining when he took Tom Kostopoulos' up-ice pass to beat Markkanen while skating down the slot. Markkanen turned aside the other 40 shots he faced as Pittsburgh led 41-27 in shots.

The Penguins also couldn't get the puck past Markkanen despite having a 5-on-3 advantage for two minutes early in the third period.

Bobby Holik's heads-up play restored the Rangers' two-goal lead just over a minute after Meloche's goal as he stole the puck off Caron's stick as the goalie tried to play the puck behind the net and fed Jed Ortmeyer in front of the abandoned net for his second of the season. Holik also scored an empty-net goal with 10 seconds remaining.

Game notes

Penguins D Dick Tarnstrom (flu) missed the game. ... Pittsburgh has the worst intraconference record in the Eastern Conference, 5-17-5-2. ... Kovalev doesn't have a power play goal after scoring 11 last season with the Penguins and Rangers. ... The Rangers are 3-0 against the Penguins this season.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press