The New York Rangers are playing like they don't miss Wayne Gretzky at all.
Since their top player was sidelined by a neck injury on Friday, the Rangers extended their unbeaten streak to three games with a 2-2 tie against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night.
"Their top line outplayed our top line," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. "(The Rangers) had a look of desperation in their eyes."
As well they should. Even with the tie against the NHL's top team, the Rangers still dropped four points behind in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot. They have 21 games left in their season.
"It was a must for us to start winning games," Rangers forward Petr Nedved said of the Rangers' 2-0-1 record after losing Gretzky. "We were struggling at home and for us to make the playoffs, we had to start playing much better."
Nedved has three goals and three assists since replacing Gretzy at center on the top line. Tuesday night, Nedved helped set up a goal by Adam Graves, his 30th, at 1:10 of the first to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
"I hope everyone realizes that collectively we have to fill Gretzky's void," Graves said. "But anytime you lose the greatest player that played the game, it's a huge void."
Mike Richter made 28 saves as the Rangers tied the Stars in their first meeting of the season. The Rangers gave the Stars a tough test and very nearly beat them when Niklas Sundstrom hit the goal post with a shot in the final six minutes.
The Stars were lucky in other ways. Two times in the final 13 minutes, they were saved by a couple of brilliant plays by defenseman Derian Hatcher, who swept the puck out of danger after goaltender Ed Belfour stopped shots.
Dallas also had a tough time getting its power play going against New York, failing on all seven attempts.
"I think they definitely did a very good job at pretty much shutting down our power play," Belfour said. "We couldn't get anything going."
Richter's best stop came on a quick kick save in the first period on Mike Keane, who started to raise his stick thinking he had scored. Belfour made 24 saves in the Dallas net as the Stars opened a three-game road trip.
The Stars had their seven-game road winning streak stopped, but stretched their unbeaten road streak to nine (7-0-2) to match a club record set earlier this season. The Stars, who lead the Pacific Division with an NHL-high 86 points, also have an NHL-best 18-5-6 mark on the road.
Graves gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with a shot from the left circle at 1:10 of the first period. Dallas tied it at 16:26 when Langenbrunner deflected a shot from the slot by Jere Lehtinen.
Fraser scored on his own rebound at 3:04 of the second to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Nieuwendyk tied it with a quick shot from the low slot with 28 seconds left in the second.
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