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Rangers squeak past Flyers

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NEW YORK (AP) -Martin Straka's sixth NHL hat trick pushed him over the 20-goal mark for the sixth time and carried the streaking New York Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night.

Straka scored in each period for the roller-coaster Rangers, who are back on an upswing. They have won three straight following a seven-game losing streak that came on the heels of a season-high, five-game victory spurt.

Straka gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead and finished his first hat trick since last March 29 with an unassisted breakaway goal that made it 3-1 with 13:06 left. Straka who flashed a wide smile and fist pumps after each tally brought dozens of hats raining to the ice after his 21st goal.

Philadelphia had its longest winning streak of the season end at three despite the first goal of the season by Eric Meloche. The Flyers, 3-2 on their eight-game road trip, are last in the NHL with 11 wins.

Robert Esche had won three straight for the Flyers - following the team's record 10-game losing streak - while making at least 40 saves in each. His workload dipped to 26 saves in this one.

Once Straka connected 4:15 after the opening faceoff, Philadelphia was essentially done. The Flyers are 1-21-1 when allowing the first goal and 1-16 when trailing after the first period.

Henrik Lundqvist did the rest, stopping 21 shots. He lost his shutout bid when Meloche scored a fluke goal during a third-period power play, then was bailed out by the goal post on the shift right before Straka's final goal.

Mike York intercepted Lundqvist's attempt at an empty-net goal and scored to make it 3-2 with 21.4 seconds left.

That was the extent of Philadelphia's offense while playing again without captain Peter Forsberg, who missed the game due to a groin injury sustained Tuesday. Forsberg is expected to be sidelined seven-to-10 days, which doesn't bode well for the Flyers - 0-10-3 without him.

New York held a 15-5 shots advantage through the first 20 minutes and then doubled the lead when each team registered only four shots in the second.

Philadelphia's had a prime chance to get back in it late in the middle frame when the Flyers had a 5-on-3 power play but managed just two shots during the overall advantage that lasted 3:28.

Meloche cut the Flyers' deficit to 2-1 at 4:03 of the third when defenseman Joni Pitkanen's pass from behind the Rangers net hit him in the right skate and caromed in off Lundqvist.

Straka's linemate Michael Nylander set up the first goal, stick-handling in the left corner and then feeding a perfect pass in front for a quick one-timer. Straka then fired in a loose puck as Esche lunged across the goal crease 5:29 into the second.

Straka is only two goals behind teammate Brendan Shanahan, who along with club points leader Jaromir Jagr, has gone a season-worst seven games without a goal.

Notes: Rangers C Blair Betts signed a two-year contract extension. ... Flyers RW Sami Kapanen, who missed one game after sustaining a concussion Sunday against Carolina, returned to take Forsberg's place. ... G Antero Niittymaki served as Esche's backup. He sat out three games (hip). ... Straka scored a career-high 35 goals with Pittsburgh during the 1998-99 season. ... Rangers D Marek Malik returned after a six-game absence (groin).
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