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Marek Malik (remember the name, plz)


Fred Jetstone

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Malik wins it for Rangers' sixth straight

BY COLIN STEPHENSON

Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK -- The Rangers are hot and suddenly Marek Malik is becoming their not-so-secret weapon.

Malik, who formally introduced himself to the Madison Square Garden crowd when he scored an amazing goal in the 15th round of a shootout to beat the Washington Capitals Saturday night, scored the game-winner again last night. The 2-1 victory over the Penguins is the Rangers' sixth straight triumph.

"I'm scared to turn on the TV right now," Jaromir Jagr said when asked about Malik. "You can't hide from him. I can't go to the basketball game without people showing (the shootout winner). I can't even go to Sunday's Giants game because I think he's going to be there again. It's just unbelievable."

"He's on fire right now," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "I think he played a really good game today. He was so calm with the puck and made the right choice all the time. I think he was maybe the best player on the ice tonight."

Malik accepted a cross-ice pass from his defense partner, Michal Rozsival at the left point, skated in and whipped a wrist shot from the left circle over the right (stick) shoulder of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 6:31 of the second period to break a 1-1 tie. Lundqvist (35 saves) and the Rangers defense made the lead hold up.

The six straight victories is the Rangers' longest winning streak since they won six straight in November of 2001, and it raised their record to 17-7-3, meaning they are 10 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 1995-96 season, when they finished 14 games over .500 at 41-27-14.

Maxim Kondratiev's first NHL goal -- and the Rangers' first power play goal in four games -- opened the scoring at 7:52 of the first period, but Ryan Whitney scored his first NHL goal at 1:54 of the second period to tie the game. Malik broke the tie with his first regulation goal for the Rangers.

According to Jagr, Malik has more offensive skill than people think. He did enter this season with 27 goals in seven previous NHL seasons, scoring a career high seven for Vancouver in 2002-03.

"Well, I know what I can do with the puck," Malik said. "But I'm kind of a more defensive guy. If I've got a 50-50 chance to jump up (onto a loose puck in the offensive zone), I always stay back and play defensive. I've always played like that my whole career. Maybe I'm hurting myself because I'm not jumping in, I might have more points, but that was just me."

The Rangers played their first game since Saturday and started off somewhat rusty. But Malik, Jason Strudwick and the rest of the defense -- plus Lundqvist -- helped hold off the Penguins' attack. Mario Lemieux was held without a point for the fourth straight game, the longest drought of his career.

The Rangers also got back left wing Martin Rucinsky, who returned after missing 14 games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. The Rangers were 10-4 in his absence, including winning the last five in a row, and Jagr joked at the morning skate that Rucinsky's return "might end our (winning) streak."

But Rangers coach Tom Renney had likened getting Rucinsky -- who had six goals and eight assists for 14 points in the 12 games he played before he was injured -- to adding an impact player via trade.

"We missed him in our lineup," Renney said. "We've had tremendous cover by other guys who stepped in and helped us out, but certainly he could help the entire hockey club."

Rucinsky was tested early, getting shoved into the goalpost just 4:50 into the game while the Rangers were on a four-minute power play. But he survived and seemed to create some offense, setting up linemate Marcel Hossa for an early shot on goal.

Asked how Rucinsky played, Renney said, "I thought he was fine. Marty, he's a terrific competitor. He wants to be a real good player every night and most nights he really is. ... For me, coming off what he's been through, I thought he was very good."

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