The highest payroll in the NHL is finally starting to pay off.

Radek Dvorak and Michael York scored 1 minute 31 seconds apart in the first period last night as the New York Rangers defeated the slumping Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1, in Raleigh, N.C. The victory by the Rangers was their fourth straight and sixth in seven contests.

"We weren't playing well [early], and that's the first thing people are going to pick on," New York Coach John Muckler said of the team's $61 million payroll. "Whether that's fair or not fair, you knew that was coming. That was a given before the season started. If we didn't play well, we knew we were going to hear about it every day and that's exactly what happened."

That talk has now quieted as the Rangers are making a serious playoff move in the Eastern Conference.

"It's exciting," said Muckler. "Winning can become contagious just like losing can hurt you, like a disease. This is something that can snowball. You never know how long it can go."

On the other side, the Hurricanes dropped their season-high fifth straight.

* BRUINS 4, LIGHTNING 2: Byron Dafoe stopped 26 shots and Andre Savage scored a fluke third-period goal as Boston won in Tampa Bay.

The victory gave the Bruins their first two-game winning streak since Nov. 22-24. Boston also has a five-game unbeaten streak, 2-0-3.

Dafoe made point-blank saves in the first period on Fredrik Modin and Pavel Kubina. He also stopped Robert Petrovicky from in close during the second period.

* SENATORS 1, FLYERS 1: Eric Lindros can't return soon enough for Philadelphia. The problem is, no one knows--or will say--when that might be.

The host Flyers continued to struggle without their injured captain, extending their winless streak to four games with a 1-1 tie against Ottawa.

Lindros missed his third straight game after sustaining his third concussion in 22 months last Friday in Atlanta. He skated with the team yesterday morning for the first time since the injury, but the team offered no update on his condition after the game.

* COYOTES 2, SABRES 1: Keith Tkachuk scored a goal and Dallas Drake added one, with Phoenix short-handed, as the Coyotes won at home. Chris Taylor ruined Sean Burke's shutout attempt, scoring on a rebound with 9:05 left, but the Coyotes regrouped and preserved their Pacific Division-leading 25th win.

* STARS 5, KINGS 2: Mike Modano had a goal and two assists as Dallas extended its unbeaten streak against host Los Angeles to 21 games. The Kings had cut a three-goal deficit to one before Modano scored a key insurance tally on a breakaway, beating goaltender Jamie Storr for his team-leading 17th goal with 5:11 left.