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ISLANDERS BREAK EVEN ON BACKS OF THE RANGERS

It was as symbolic as it was real. A win over the New York Rangers at Nassau Coliseum. A banishment of Rangers goalie Mike Richter. A nonlosing record in the month of October. A handful of victories wrapped up in one.

The New York Islanders, after all, had managed one winning record in October in the previous nine seasons. Richter had not been chased from a game since Feb. 21 in Hartford. The Islanders had not beaten the Rangers at home in six games, dating to March 23, 1995.

But having been challenged in preseason training camp to achieve at least a .500 record for the first month of the season, the Islanders delivered Thursday night, downing the Rangers, 5-3, before a sellout crowd of 16,297 at Nassau Coliseum. In the process, they forced Richter to the bench with 10:08 left in the second period and left the Rangers and their president and general manager, Neil Smith, to be serenaded with a late-game chant of "Messier! Messier! Messier!" That, in reference to their former captain, Mark Messier, now with the Vancouver Canucks.

"We're buying into the system," Islanders forward Bryan Smolinski said. "We have a lot of guys now from a lot of successful teams, and they don't want to lose."

The system notwithstanding, it's been the special teams that have helped the Islanders to end October at .500 (5-5-2). For the second straight game, they scored three power-play goals, and they have 15 in 67 chances (22.4 percent) this season. The penalty killing has been just as good, allowing only six goals in 69 chances (91.3 percent).

"The power play has been pretty good this year," said defenseman Bryan Berard, who has six of his seven goals and six of his seven assists with the man advantage.

The Rangers have won just twice in their last nine games (2-6-1).

The game turned when Smolinski was speared by Rangers defenseman Jeff Beukeboom, who was assessed a major penalty. Just 28 seconds later, Travis Green scored, and 35 seconds after that, Berard made it 4-2.

"Tonight, the penalty killing fell apart," Rangers coach Colin Campbell said. "We have to start applying ourselves."

Canucks a Mess

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Turning around the Vancouver Canucks might be the biggest challenge of his career, according to Mark Messier.

If Vancouver's game against the New Jersey Devils was any indication, it also might be an insurmountable one. The Devils totally embarrassed Messier and his new teammates as Patrik Elias, Denis Pederson and Petr Sykora scored two goals apiece to lead the Devils to an 8-1 victory.

The loss was the fifth straight for the Canucks, who have been outscored, 23-5, in the skid. The losing streak is also longer than anything Vancouver experienced last season when Messier was captain of the New York Rangers.

"I think it's important not to be frustrated," said Messier, whose third-period goal denied Devils goalie Martin Brodeur of his second straight shutout. "I think obviously we have a lot of work to do.

"I look at it as perhaps one of the biggest challenges of my career. I'm not frustrated at all. We were exposed tonight by a team that is pretty solid in all areas. . . . We were certainly outclassed tonight."

The game was the first on the East Coash for Messier since he left the Rangers in the offseason to sign a three-year $20 million contract with the Canucks.

Senators continue climb

MIAMI -- The Ottawa Senators continued their control of the Eastern Conference while the Florida Panthers continued their fall.

Chris Phillips, the No. 1 pick in the 1996 entry draft, scored his first NHL goal and Daniel Alfredsson scored his seventh in seven games as the Senators beat the Panthers, 5-2.

"This is something I will remember for the rest of my life," Phillips said. " My first NHL goal -- it's a great feeling."

Ottawa improved to 8-3-3 with their second road victory in as many days, both over Florida opponents. The Senators beat Tampa Bay, also 5-2, Wednesday night and lead the Eastern Conference with 19 points.

The Senators lead the conference for the first time in franchise history, while the Panthers (3-6-3), who lost to Colorado in the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, are near the bottom of the Atlantic Division.

"It's obvious we're not doing our job and it's costing us big-time," Florida captain Scott Mellanby said.

Florida goalie Mark Fitzpatrick's winless streak reached 17 games -- spanning 10 months. He allowed the five goals on 26 shots. He fell to 0-2-1 this season and 0-9-8 dating back to last season. He was pulled for rookie Kevin Weekes -- the team's third goalie -- with 13:52 left. Fitzpatrick started in place of John Vanbiesbrouck, who missed his second straight game with a strained groin. The Panthers play host to the Buffalo Sabres Saturday.

Accuser commits suicide

TORONTO -- The Toronto man whose complaint led to an investigation that uncovered a child sex-abuse scandal at Maple Leaf Gardens killed himself, police said.

Martin Kruze, 35, jumped off the Bloor viaduct in Toronto onto a highway below at about 11 a.m. Thursday, a Metro Toronto police spokesman said.

Kruze's complaint prompted the investigation of former Gardens equipment manager Gordon Stuckless, who was sentenced Monday to temporary chemical castration, two years in prison and three years probation for sexually assaulting boys, luring them with hockey tickets and memorabilia.

Kruze was one of 24 boys Stuckless admitted to molesting from 1969 to 1988.

Around the rinks

The Blues ran their record to 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 7-0-1 at home since an opening-day loss to the Sabres by tying the Avalanche, 2-2. The tie put St. Louis into a virtual tie with the Red Wings atop the league standings. Both have 22 points, although the Red Wings have a game in hand. Goalie Grant Fuhr made 29 saves and also recorded an assist as the Blues came through with their second strong performance in two days. The night before, they won 3-2 at Philadelphia. . . . Teemu Selanne scored twice to set a franchise record with goals in six consecutive games, and Guy Hebert earned his first shutout of the season as the Mighty Ducks stopped the Bruins, 3-0. Selanne's two goals gave him nine in his last six games and 10 for the season. The streak broke a franchise record set by Mike Sillinger in 1995 and matched by Selanne in January. . . . Rookie Tyler Moss turned in a standout performance in goal and Theo Fleury broke a tie in the third period as the Flames defeated the Coyotes, 4-2.

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