NEW YORK (TICKER) —Scoreboard watching isn’t fun. Watching Brian Leetch is.
With one eye on the scoreboard and another on the ice, the New York Rangers rallied for an important point as Leetch scored a spectacular power-play goal with 7:11 remaining en route to a 1-1 tie with the archrival New York Islanders.
Mike Dunham made 36 saves for the Rangers, who moved within two points of Boston for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins were on their way to a loss when the Rangers left the locker room after the second intermission.
“We were aware of it after the second period,” Dunham said. “We were still down one goal. We had business to take care of.”
Leetch took care of it by himself. He picked up a loose puck inside the Rangers’ end, split a pair of Islanders inside the offensive zone and cut to the bottom of the right faceoff circle before roofing a backhander to Garth Snow’s short side.
“He’s a rare talent,” Dunham said of Leetch, a two-time Norris Trophy winner. “Any time he gets the puck, it’s fun to watch.”
It was the eighth goal of the season for Leetch, who has eight points in 10 games since returning from a severe ankle injury that sidelined him 31 contests. The Rangers are 5-3-2 with him back in the lineup.
“I think mentally, being injured and coming back, you’re automatically fresh and excited to get back in the lineup,” he said.
Leetch returned to a lineup that included a healthy Pavel Bure and Alexei Kovalev, who was acquired from Pittsburgh. With three of the most talented players in the NHL on the ice, the Rangers finally have made a postseason surge.
“To make the move for Alex and then to have Pavel come back right afterwards, some excitement already built up through the rest of the guys in the room,” Leetch said. “I came back in a good situation.”
Despite Leetch’s heroics, the Rangers still squandered a point, which is valuable, considering they only have 13 games remaining and Boston has four games in hand.
“He did save a point for us, but you cannot be satisfied with that,” said center Bobby Holik, whose team is unbeaten in a season-high four games (2-0-2). “We need wins. We need to close the gap a little bit more.”
Dave Scatchard scored a second-period goal for the Islanders, who tied Tampa Bay for sixth place in the East. They also have four games in hand on the Rangers.
“We’re able to keep pace,” Isles coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought we played well enough to get more, and still holding four games in hand is the key.”
As is usually the case when these teams meet, the game was physical and the sellout crowd of 18,200 at Madison Square Garden was into it.
The Isles had the best chances in the first period, but Dunham made a superb sliding save on Blake’s shorthanded rush with 11:36 left and stopped Claude Lapointe a minute later on a 2-on-1.
“We knew what to expect,” Dunham said. “They came out hard and fast. That’s the way they play.”
Scatchard finally opened the scoring 5:41 into the second. Three Rangers got caught behind the net when Blake threw a pass from the right corner to the low slot, where Scatchard one-timed the puck through Dunham’s legs.
Snow preserved the lead midway through the period with consecutive stops in front on Holik and Petr Nedved. Snow - Dunham’s former college teammate and best man - finished with 34 saves.
The Rangers opened the third period with a power play and failed to score. But Kovalev drew a tripping penalty on Sven Butenschon with 9:02 remaining and Leetch scored with nine seconds left on the man advantage.
Dunham had kicked away Blake’s long slap shot when Leetch picked up the puck inside his own blue line. He skated untouched through the neutral zone, slipped between Michael Peca and Mattias Timander and beat Snow with a perfect shot.
“He made a great move on our defenseman and even a better move to backhand upstairs,” Blake said. “He’s a leader over there. When he’s going, the whole team is going.”