NEW YORK (AP) — Martin Biron has carved a special niche inside the New York Rangers’ dressing room.
Don’t call him Henrik Lundqvist’s backup anymore. In his coach’s eyes, he has become every bit a partner in an exceptional duo.
Biron gave Lundqvist a break as the Rangers played the middle game of a stretch of three games in four nights and stopped 24 shots in a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night. Biron improved to 7-1 in nine appearances this season and has stopped 93 percent of the shots he has faced.
He even earned an assist on Brandon Dubinsky’s goal that put the Rangers ahead 1-0 in the first period.
“You have to give Marty Biron some credit,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “It’s not about giving Henrik rest, it’s I have a good goalie and I can’t call him a backup. He’s winning games. There is no question Henrik is our number one guy, but if you want to get there … your goalie can’t be playing 75 or 78 games.
“When we signed Marty we thought we had a good one, but right now it’s a 1 and a 1a.”
Biron made several key saves early and kept the game tied in the second when the Islanders generated scoring chances.
“You feel a sense of pride just producing for the team and being part of a great tandem with Hank,” said Biron, a former Islanders player.
Dubinsky staked the Rangers to their first lead, scoring for the first time in 17 games — dating to Nov. 11 — and Marian Gaborik and Michael Del Zotto connected in the second for New York, which has won three straight. The Rangers got off to a good start in their back-to-back games against Atlantic Division rivals, and will look to complete the sweep Friday when they host Winter Classic foe Philadelphia in a matchup for first place.
The Rangers have already built off their 4-1 win at New Jersey on Tuesday. John Mitchell scored an empty-net goal with 1:33 remaining to seal it for New York, 5-2-1 in its past eight.
“No disrespect to the Islanders, I know the players looked to that Philly game,” Tortorella said. “I don’t think we were great, but I don’t think we got ahead of ourselves.”
P.A. Parenteau got the Islanders even at 1 with a power-play goal just 18 seconds into the second period, and Matt Moulson added a man-advantage goal 8:29 into the third, but it wasn’t enough to give them their third straight road win. The Islanders, who won their previous two games in a shootout, will host Toronto on Friday and then return to Madison Square Garden on Monday to face the Rangers again.
Evgeni Nabokov filled in for injured Al Montoya (concussion) and made 21 saves for the Islanders, who were 5-1-1 in their previous seven road games. Montoya played in 11 of the previous 12 games, but was injured at Winnipeg on Tuesday. Nabokov got the win then in relief in his first appearance since injuring a groin on Nov. 17.
“I wasn’t as crisp as I wanted to be, but not bad,” Nabokov said. “Every little detail is important because we are fighting for the playoffs and we can’t afford to lose too many games.”
Dubinsky broke his drought with an impressive rush up ice. He got by Parenteau at center ice and then charged into the Islanders end against defenseman Mark Streit. Dubinsky snapped a shot from the right side that beat Nabokov over his pad with 5:07 left in the first.
Dubinsky shook his fists in delight and gazed up in a sigh of relief as his excited teammates patted him on the back. The well wishes continued on the bench, where Dubinsky sat wearing a wide smile.
“You shoot the puck enough and it’s bound to go in,” Dubinsky said.
The Islanders took advantage of defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s holding penalty that came in the final minute of the first period, when Parenteau got to a rebound of Streit’s shot and scored his sixth goal.
The Rangers got that one back and then increased their lead to two when Gaborik and Del Zotto scored 7:33 apart.
Gaborik was the beneficiary of a fine play by linemate Artem Anisimov, who won a faceoff in the offensive zone left circle, pushed the puck in front and then moved it in front of the crease to Gaborik, who backhanded in his 20th goal at 7:52.
“The whole turning point to me is the faceoff goal,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.
Del Zotto made it 3-1 with 4:35 left in the second when he got to a loose puck that had popped high in the air and fired in a shot for his fourth.
The goal was even more important for the Rangers, who improved to 17-0-1 when they score at least three times this season.
Moulson brought the Islanders within 3-2 when he scored his 16th of the season while Rangers defenseman Stu Bickel served a double minor for roughing.
NOTES: The Rangers and Flyers are tied with an NHL-low eight regulation losses. … Biron has two assists this season and 13 in his 14-season NHL career. … Islanders D Mark Eaton returned after missing 13 games because of a knee injury. … The Islanders had scored first in their previous seven road games. … Streit assisted on both Islanders goals and has points on 13 of the team’s 19 power-play tallies. … Gaborik has 16 goals and 11 assists in his last 25 games and 10 goals and four assists in the past 12.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)