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New York Rangers remain unbeaten with 4-3 win over Philadelphia Flyers

PHILADELPHIA - The Rangers travelled around the globe looking for wins like a politician stumping for votes. The Czech Republic, New York and, now, Philadelphia.

No matter the locale, the Rangers are perfect and off to their best start in 25 years.

Even Sarah Palin would like a run like this.

Nikolai Zherdev scored the first of four first-period goals, and the New York Rangers remained unbeaten with a 4-3 victory to spoil the Philadelphia Flyers' opener on Saturday night.

"We've won every way," said Rangers centre Scott Gomez. "We've won with special teams. We've won on the road. We've held the lead. We've come from behind. We're learning how to win."

Palin, the GOP vice presidential nominee, heard a mixture of those infamous Philly boos and some polite applause when she walked onto the ice to briefly trade politics for pucks. Palin, the Alaska governor, waved to the crowd and smiled as she dropped the puck between Mike Richards of the Flyers and Gomez. She shook hands with Richards and shared a quick embrace and kiss on the cheek with Gomez - who is from Alaska.

"Politics aside, as far as someone coming from the home state, in the position she's in, as a fellow Alaskan, yeah, you're proud," Gomez said.

Added Richards: "It's nice to see someone like that appreciate hockey."

The orange-clad fans needed little time in the Flyers' season opener to turn their rancor toward a more familiar target. Zherdev scored his second goal in two nights only 4:12 into the game, the Rangers scored three more quick ones and Flyers goalie Martin Biron was booed off the ice when he was pulled late in the period.

Blair Betts, Fredrik Sjostrom and Michal Rozsival scored goals for Rangers. The Rangers (4-0) won in Philadelphia for the eighth time in the past nine games and are off to their best start since they were 5-0 in 1983-84.

Scott Hartnell, Simon Gagne and Richards all scored goals for the Flyers. Gagne made his return from lingering effects of a concussion and played his first game since Feb. 10. The former all-star forward received a huge ovation when he knocked in a goal late in the second period that sliced New York's lead to 4-2.

Danny Briere had two assists for the Flyers.

The Rangers got 25 saves from Flyers-stopper Stephen Valiquette. Notoriously tough on the Flyers, Valiquette improved to 5-1-1 against them. Not bad considering the backup has only 10 career victories.

"Maybe it's watching the 'Rocky' movie before the game or 'Philadelphia Freedom' by Elton John," Valiquette said. "There's a few landmark songs and movies you can watch before you come to Philly to get you excited to play here. This obviously a great city and this is a great building to play in."

The Rangers showed no signs of slowing down and immediately took it to the Flyers a night after a win over Chicago. New York got a head start on the season last weekend with a two-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Czech Republic.

Betts scored from the slot for his first goal in 41 games and Sjostrom followed 63 seconds later with a wraparound that stunned Biron. Once Rozsival scored to make it 4-0, Flyers coach John Stevens benched his playoff-star goalie for Antero Niittymaki. Biron's play last season was a reason why the Flyers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals and had hopes of contending for their first Stanley Cup since 1975.

"I was just trying to change the momentum and give us a chance to regroup," Stevens said.

The move almost worked. Niittymaki was flawless in relief and kept alive hopes of a comeback. Gagne scored in the waning moments of the second period, and Richards, picked as the 17th captain in Flyers history, slid the puck past Valiquette midway through the third to send the faithful into a frenzy.

"I certainly liked the effort to get back," Stevens said. "It just seemed like we were a step behind."

Indeed, the Flyers couldn't do anything against Valiquette with a two-man advantage for 1:33 later in the third and he held on for his first win since March 2 against - you betcha - the Flyers.

Notes: Cathy O'Connell of Erdenheim, Pa., joined Palin on the ice as the winner of a team promotion for the "Ultimate Hockey Mom." Last month, Palin visited a Philadelphia bar with Flyers owner Ed Snider, who has donated money to Republican presidential nominee John McCain's campaign. ... There were no apparent signs of protest outside the arena. One fan held a sign that read "Vote Obama" behind New York's net, and a few others held "Obama-Biden" signs behind Palin. ... Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said D Randy Jones will have surgery this week on his hip. Jones has a torn labrum and could miss up to four months.



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