Lundqvist, Rangers Blank Islanders, Take Over Eastern Conference Leadi

Christmas began last weekend for the New York Rangers after Brad Richards‘ game-winning goal with .01 seconds left against the Phoenix Coyotes. It continued with wins against rivals New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers all in succession.

Last night, though, Santa delivered with a 3-0 win over the Islanders, leapfrogging the Blueshirts over the Boston Bruins and into first place in the Eastern Conference. It was the team’s fifth-straight win.

“It’s fun to talk about it while we’re up there,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 28 saves for his third shutout of the season, including a pair in the second period that brought the Garden to its feet. “But it doesn’t really matter where we are in the standings. If we take care of business out there, we’ll be up there.”

Rookie Carl Hagelin gave coach John Tortorella and Co. more reason never think of sending this kid back down the AHL, after he opened the scoring in the second period after a gorgeous move by Michael Del Zotto to get around Mark Streit. Hagelin added another in the third period off another feed by Del Zotto, who had two assists and was a plus-3 and wore the celebratory Broadway Hat.

“It’s always fun to play when you’re winning,” Hagelin said. “There are a lot of great guys on the team and I feel like I”ve been here for longer than whatever, 16 games. The guys have been really nice to me, and it’s easy to get in and be a part of this team. Everyone’s working hard and we have great goaltenders both in Hank and Marty. Without them, we wouldn’t have this many wins, that’s for sure.”

“I think each year as you’re building a team, you need a surprise. And he’s been a pleasant one,” said Tortorella of Hagelin. “It’s another young kid. Not only has he helped us offensively, but he’s doing a lot of good things away from the puck. You needed that.”

Marian Gaborik ended the night with an empty-net goal for his league leading 22nd of the season, and was on the puck the entire night.

Though he didn’t make it onto the scoresheet, Brian Boyle played a very strong game, blocking a flurry of Islander shots as time expired in the second period, though he was only credited with one. “One blocked shot, are you kidding me?” Boyle asked.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the latest the Rangers have led the Eastern Conference since 1995-96, the last time they had home-ice advantage in a playoff round. That year, the Rangers held the lead all the way into March.

This is also the third winning streak of at least five games, with another five gamer and a seven earlier in the season.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattCalamia

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