NEW YORK (AP) — So often, New York Rangers’ winning streaks have been fueled by the stonewall goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist.
He is still a big part of the equation, but suddenly he has an ever-improving, young supporting cast that is making this group of Rangers a legitimate threat in the NHL.
Rookie forward Carl Hagelin scored twice for his second career multi-goal game, and Lundqvist stopped all 28 shots he faced as the Rangers beat the New York Islanders 3-0 on Monday night for their fifth straight victory.
The names of high-priced forwards Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards are quite familiar, and they have both played a key role in the Rangers’ surge to the top of the standings. But suddenly, youngsters such as Hagelin and defenseman Stu Bickel, have contributed to New York’s recent success.
Despite injuries to defensemen Marc Staal and Michael Sauer, the Rangers haven’t missed a beat.
“There is great depth in this organization,” said Hagelin, who also scored twice against Buffalo on Dec. 10. “There’s a lot of guys out and it shows that the organization is doing a great job preparing guys for this. It’s fun.”
Hagelin, in just his 16th NHL game, scored in the second and third periods for the Rangers (22-8-4) — the Atlantic Division leaders, who leapfrogged defending Stanley Cup champion Boston into first place in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers finished a 3-0 homestand that included a pair of victories over the Islanders in a five-day span. New York’s past four victories have been against division rivals. The Rangers begin a three-game trip at Washington on Wednesday that will conclude with the outdoor Winter Classic in Philadelphia next Monday.
Lundqvist improved to 23-11-5 against the Islanders with four shutouts. He has three shutouts overall this season and 38 in seven NHL seasons.
“I don’t have too many this year, but hopefully I can change that,” he said.
Joyous Rangers fans chanted “Hen-rik!” as the final moments ticked down. Gaborik sealed the win with his league-leading 22nd goal — an empty-netter with 2:28 left. Gaborik scored for the fifth straight game, netting seven in the span, and matched his goal total of last season.
Evgeni Nabokov made 28 saves for the Islanders (11-17-6), who dropped behind Carolina and into last place in the 15-team East. The Islanders have lost three of four to the Rangers this season.
“I don’t think we have to change a lot, but we have to simplify things,” Nabokov said. “We have to find a way to play hard. I don’t like the word cocky, but we have to come out with a swagger.
“We have to come out with the mentality we can win and that we’re going to work hard,” he said.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead 5:14 into the second on Hagelin’s first goal. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto made a slick, toe-drag move to get around forward Frans Nielsen in the high slot and sent the puck down to Ryan Callahan near the left post. Callahan moved it across the crease to Hagelin for a shot that banked in off Nabokov.
“Both of those goals, it was really just being in the right spot at the right time, and guys making good plays,” Hagelin said. “I didn’t do much.”
Lundqvist was the overall star of the period for the Rangers as he turned aside numerous in-close chances. With just under seven minutes left, Lundqvist made a tough save to stop P.A. Parenteau during a power play, and quickly got back into position to kick out Nielsen’s try on the rebound.
At the end of that advantage, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi sprung Callahan on a breakaway as the New York captain left the penalty box, but just before he closed in on Nabokov the puck bounced over his stick.
Lundqvist came up big again when in rapid-fire succession he denied Marty Reasoner twice and Tim Wallace. He got some help in the closing seconds of the second when teammates Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman threw their bodies in front of potentially dangerous shots and were left down on their knees in pain when the buzzer sounded.
Hagelin doubled the lead 6:32 into the third when he finished off a feed from Del Zotto for his sixth goal.
NOTES: Islanders C Micheal Haley injured a hand during a first-period fight with Bickel and didn’t return. He will be re-evaluated Tuesday. … The Rangers have beaten the Islanders six straight times at the Garden. … Bickel had earned four assists in his first three NHL games before being blanked by the Islanders. He sustained a black eye during his fight with Haley.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)