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Defense Wins It For Canucks

Kevin Weekes lost the game puck when a frustrated Theoren Fleury flicked it into the stands at the final buzzer. But the Vancouver Canucks' goalie got the most important thing on Saturday night his first NHL career victory.

"Some of the guys tried to grab the puck but I think Fleury threw it into the stands, so I don't have the original one," said Weekes, who stopped 32 shots to lead the Canucks to a 2-1 season-opening victory over the New York Rangers.

"It's nice, no question about it. But we have to take it for what it is, it's not the Stanley Cup," said Weekes.

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  • Billed as the "goalie of the future" when the Canucks acquired him in last January's seven-player deal that sent Pavel Bure to Florida, Weekes finally earned his first win in his 24th NHL appearance.

    His all-time record: 1-13-2.

    Weekes, however, was more impressed by the quality of the team the Canucks beat.

    "This is a very significant victory, that's a very good and very talented hockey club with a lot of depth," said Weekes, who got the start after No. 1 goalie Garth Snow suffered a groin strain this past week.

    Markus Naslund broke a 1-1 tie when he completed a two-on-one rush 11:56 into the second period as the Canucks recorded their fourth straight season-opening victory.

    Defenseman Chris Joseph, acquired in last week's waiver draft, also scored while former Ranger ark Messier set up two goals for the Canucks.

    New York rookie Mike York scored his first career goal as the Rangers, coming off Friday's 1-1 tie in Edmonton, extended their road winless streak to five games (0-3-2) going back to last season.

    The Rangers' power play was ineffective, finishing 0-for-6, and is now 0-for-12 in two games.

    And the Rangers, a club whose estimated $58 million payroll is the highest in NHL history, are already feeling the pressure.

    "It makes this three-game homestand all the more important," said Rangers captain Brian Leetch, as the team heads home to prepare for Tuesday's home-opener against Ottawa. "I think we feel we need to win some games. It just makes it easier on everybody."

    "The .500 mark is something we've been under for two years. We don't want to keep fighting that. We want to get as far above that bar as possible."

    Leetch said it's a matter of the team capitalizing on its chances.

    "Until you start putting the puck in the net, you're never getting enough chances," he said.

    Rangers coach John Muckler vowed that his club's power-play unit, which managed nine shots on net, will get better.

    "It has to get better. And it will get better, too," Muckler said. "We have people on the club here we know can score goals. History tells you that. We're just not getting the production at this time. It's not lack of effort, but we're not finishing at all."

    Joseph opened the scoring with a power-play goal 7:14 into the game. York tied it three minutes into the second.

    Naslund, set up by a cross-ice feed from Bill Muckalt, scored the game-winner with a rising snap shot from the left circle that beat Rangers goalie Mike Richter.

    The Rangers were without Valeri Kamensky, who is listed as day-to-day with a bruised forearm suffered in Friday's game in Edmonton.

    The Rangers also lost center Tim Taylor, who required six stitches over his right eye and was experiencing dizziness after being checked heavily into the boards by Ed Jovanovski midway through the first period.

    Jovanovski, who missed all of training camp before re-signing on Thursday, was a force all night, chalking it up to adrenalin.

    "We put on our hard hats and went to work," said Jovanovski.

    ©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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