NEW YORK - Petr Prucha provides quite a punch when he gets into the New York Rangers lineup. His only problem has been getting regular work.
Prucha got the Rangers even Monday night when he scored one of New York's four third-period goals that carried them to a 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders. The speedy Czech forward has only two goals this season, but both were scored after lengthy benchings.
"I got lucky," said Prucha, who hadn't played in eight games. "It's tough being out of the lineup for so long, and it was frustrating. I got the chance to play again and scored, so hopefully I will be in the lineup for the next game."
There is a good chance of that when the Rangers visit Washington on Saturday. Prucha returned Dec. 3 after a 10-game absence and scored in that New York victory over Pittsburgh. After playing the following two games, he was banished again.
The question now remains, what does the former 30-goal scorer have to do to earn steady playing time?
"If he would get three or four goals a night he'll be fine," Rangers coach Tom Renney said with a laugh. "Pete's a battler. That's exactly what you have to do when you get those opportunities."
The Rangers held a 25-15 shots advantage through two periods but entered the third trailing 2-1. A hard and clean hit by Ryan Callahan on Islanders forward Trent Hunter that forced open a door at the scorer's table, and left Hunter down in pain, sparked the Rangers.
Hunter slammed into the boards 40 seconds into the third and hit the edge after the door opened. He went down on his knees before rolling onto his back. A stretcher was brought out, but Hunter got to his feet and skated off toward the dressing room.
"When a player gets hurt, I think it takes the momentum out of you a little bit," Islanders goalie Joey MacDonald. "Bad things happen during the game ... but you have to still battle and get right back to work."
Hunter, who injured his mid-back and hip, had the wind knocked out of him and didn't return to the game.
"I was just fighting to get my breath. I think that's obviously scary," he said. "I'm sure I'm going to be pretty sore tomorrow."
The Rangers turned the ensuing faceoff into Prucha's goal nine seconds later.
"I have played with a lot of guys, and that guy is one of the best teammates I've ever had," said Scott Gomez, who had a goal and an assist. "For whatever reason he hasn't been in the lineup, but he never says a word. He is one of the guys that always has a smile on his face and works the hardest in practice.
"Not only was it a huge goal, but to see him get it even means more."
Michal Rozsival, who missed one game due to a family illness, gave the Rangers their first lead with a sharp-angle goal at 2:08, but the Islanders needed only 27 seconds to tie it on Blake Comeau's second.
Markus Naslund put the Rangers ahead for good at 7:12 with his team-leading 14th, snapping the team's longest losing streak of the season at three.
"I got the effort from everybody, we just have to translate that into being a smart team," Renney said. "There are still two ends of the rink. They scored four goals. I'm not happy about that."
Nigel Dawes made it 5-3 with 4:49 left, but Islanders got back within a goal when Mike Comrie scored with 18.7 seconds remaining - the sixth goal of the period.
Mike Sillinger and Kyle Okposo had staked the Islanders to a pair of one-goal leads.
A brief return by No. 1 goalie Rick DiPietro sparked the Islanders on Friday when they snapped a 10-game losing streak, and New York earned another point in a shootout loss at Buffalo on Saturday. DiPietro, who has played only four games this season, is sidelined again with a sore groin.
"We scored four goals You should win a hockey game when you score four goals," MacDonald said. "We had some bad bounces, bad luck, and there is not much you can do about it."
Sillinger gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead in the first period, and Okposo scored in the final seconds of the middle frame after Gomez tied it.
The Rangers held the Islanders to only 10 shots through the first 37 minutes. but couldn't get the lead.
"That was the best they looked for 60 minutes that I have seen them play," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said of the Rangers. "I don't think we countered their great game very well."
Henrik Lundqvist kicked out a hard drive in the final minute of the second, but the puck never cleared the zone. A shot clipped Okposo's stick and bounded in with 11.7 seconds left.
Notes: The Rangers held a 37-24 shots advantage. ... Islanders C Doug Weight returned to the lineup after missing three games due to a strained groin. ... LW Aaron Voros, who played in the Rangers' first 38 games, was a healthy scratch. ... Islanders LW Andy Hilbert will miss two to four weeks due to a fractured foot.