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Associated Press
Nov 22, 2006, 3:20 AM EST


NEW YORK (AP) -Jaromir Jagr's smile is back and his corny jokes are drawing laughs again in a happier New York Rangers dressing room.

And why not? Jagr's shoulder is stronger, his scoring touch is returning to the precision level of last season, and the Broadway Blueshirts are starting to win on a more consistent basis.

One other thing, Jagr is suddenly on a milestone-a-night pace at Madison Square Garden.

The Czech star scored twice during another special night and Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves in his third career shutout to give the Rangers a solid 4-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Just two nights after Jagr became the 16th NHL player to score 600 goals, he passed Jari Kurri and set the record for goals by a European-born player.

"Now I'm looking for the 700th," he said with a chuckle. "Jari Kurri was a guy everybody looked up to from Europe. He was our idol. To score more goals than him ... It's huge."

In the only other NHL games Tuesday, it was Edmonton 2, Calgary 1, and Anaheim 5, San Jose 0.

The jovial moods disappeared from Jagr - the new Rangers captain - last spring, shortly after he broke team records for goals (54) and points (123) and carried New York into the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

The postseason stay was short and Jagr's contribution was limited. He hurt his shoulder in the series opener against New Jersey, then the injury knocked him out for good in the final game of the Devils' first-round sweep. Surgery followed, and Jagr didn't get back to playing until just before this season.

He still hasn't regained total strength in the shoulder he dislocated, but the results are starting to say otherwise. Jagr has three goals and two assists the past two games and leads the NHL with 34 points and 23 helpers.

"It is not 100 percent," he said. "Not yet. But it's better."

And so are the Rangers. New York followed up a dismal performance last Saturday in Pittsburgh with a pair of home victories against Tampa Bay and Carolina. The previous two Stanley Cup champions were outscored 8-1.

On New York's four goals versus the Hurricanes, 10 players recorded points. Only Jagr and Michael Nylander (two assists) made multiple appearances on the score sheet.

"I think we kept the game simple," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "You have to respect your opponent enough to realize that you can't reinvent the wheel and be so creative that you try to do things that are way outside of what has been successful.

"It is more important to just play a good complete game and get the win and give your opponents something to think about for future reference."

After losing three of four to Carolina last season, the Rangers have split the first two this season. The Hurricanes earned a 2-1 home victory six days earlier in the game immediately before New York's loss at Pittsburgh.

And the Rangers don't have wait long to make amends there. New York's next game after a Thanksgiving break is Saturday night in the Steel City.

"We feel like we're starting to find our game and kind of buying into the way that we need to play in order to win," forward Matt Cullen said. "We had a couple of good games here, big wins, and it's nice to go there now and hopefully return the favor."

Brendan Shanahan, who got to 600 goals earlier this season, netted his NHL-leading 17th this season and Marcel Hossa also scored.

It was the first time since Detroit's Brett Hull and Steve Yzerman on March 21, 2004, that 600-goal scoring teammates connected in the same game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Lundqvist has picked up his pace and was sharp throughout, making 23 saves in the first two periods and protecting a lead all night. During the middle frame, he turned away Mike Commodore after defenseman Karel Rachunek turned over the puck in front, and then rushed across the crease to deny Ray Whitney's one-timed shot at the left post.

After allowing at least four goals in six of his first 10 outings, Lundqvist has yielded a total of 14 in his past seven starts and posted five wins.

"I always keep telling myself to concentrate on the next puck," Lundqvist said following the Rangers' first shutout this season. "It sounds silly ... but it keeps me on my toes."

This loss doesn't bode well for the Hurricanes, who started a three-game in four-day road trip - that includes a Friday matinee in Boston - with an uninspired performance of their own. Carolina had won three straight and five of six.

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