By IRA PODELL
The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 9:43 PM
NEW YORK -- Brandon Dubinsky broke up a scoreless game 7:49 into the third period and Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves as the New York Rangers used defense to beat the Florida Panthers 1-0 on Tuesday night and stretch their winning streak to a season-high five games.
New York had been surging on the strength of its newly found offense that produced 17 goals in the previous three games - including at least five in each win. The Rangers have won seven of eight overall, scoring 34 goals in that stretch.
Lundqvist was hardly tested in earning his NHL-best 10th shutout of the season - second over Florida - and 34th of his career. He showed no ill-effects of a sore neck sustained Friday in a home win over Montreal. He followed that with a victory at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
His toughest stretch came in the final minute after the Panthers had pulled goalie Tomas Vokoun. Lundqvist kept the puck out while lying on his side on the goal line.
The seventh-place Rangers strengthened their position in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race with eight games remaining and split the four-game season series with the Panthers.
Vokoun, who shut out the Rangers in January, made 32 saves for Florida, which has dropped far behind and appears to be out of the running for a postseason berth.
The way play was going, this game seemed headed for at least overtime, if not a shootout.
The Rangers dominated in the shot totals, but failed to generate many prime scoring chances before Dubinsky finally cashed in. Earlier on the shift that produced the lone goal, Dubinsky fired a drive that got through Vokoun, but was cleared away before it crossed the goal line.
New York kept the puck in the Panthers end, and Ryan Callahan took it away in the slot. He glided to the front edge of the right circle and found Dubinsky in front for a tip-in.
After only one penalty was called in an otherwise uneventful first period, the second featured no goals and no infractions.
The Panthers increased their shot total from five in the opening period to nine in the second, when they briefly provided pressure and traffic in front of Lundqvist that was turned aside.
Florida's best chance came off a drive from Mike Santorelli that Lundqvist stopped with his pads as he crouched deep in the crease, just over the goal line.
The Rangers recorded 17 shots in the second to give them 26 through 40 minutes. Brian Boyle fired a one-timer from the right circle just over 4 minutes into the period, but Vokoun slid across to stop it.
Florida coach Pete DeBoer used his lone timeout with 2:09 left in the second period when the Panthers were being outshot 23-13.
Notes: The Panthers began their longest road trip of the season - five games - after going 3-2-2 in a season-high, seven-game homestand. ... After a 6-12-1-5 stretch against the Rangers between 2001-08, Florida is 6-4-1 since. The Panthers are 4-2 at Madison Square Garden in their past six visits. ... Rangers D Bryan McCabe faced the Panthers for the first time since he was traded to New York on Feb. 26. In 199 games with Florida between 2008-11, McCabe had 28 goals and 76 assists. ... Panthers D Keaton Ellerby took the game's only penalty, interference in the first period.