It was far from easy, but it was a most satisfying result for the Rangers Sunday night at Madison Square Garden as the Blueshirts won their second straight, beating the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in the shootout. In securing their tenth win of the season, the Rangers showed tremendous character, making Buffalo pay after an ugly hit on Brad Richards in the third period, and then killing off a two-man disadvantage in overtime before winning it in the shootout.
Rick Nash, who notched a goal and an assist in the game, and Ryan Callahan beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller in the first two rounds of the shootout, and Henrik Lundqvist denied Jason Pominville and then Tyler Ennis to make sure the home team grabbed an important two points. Buffalo saw their season-high three-game winning streak snapped. Their previous two games were won in the shootout.
A sleepy 1-0 game came alive early in the third period as the two teams combined for three special teams goals in a span of four minutes 44 seconds, with the net result being a tie 2-2 contest 8:19 into the final period of play.
Trailing 1-0 the Rangers were awarded their second power play of the night when Andrej Sekera was whistled for hooking at 2:55. While skating on that power play, Richards was hit hard in the lower back and sent head-first into the side boards by Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta, who was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct at 3:28. Seven seconds into the 5-on-3 power play, Derek Stepan converted from the bottom of the left circle off a pretty Nash feed to tie the game 1-1.
Then 43 seconds after Stepan's tally, Nash scored his fifth goal of the season, a 5-on-4 power play bullet from the right circle, to give the Rangers their first lead at 4:18. It was Nash's first power play goal as a Ranger, and marked the first time this season that the Blueshirts had scored two power play goals in a single game. Marian Gaborik, who also assisted on Stepan's goal, earned the primary assist with a little chip pass from the middle to Nash on the right wing.
However Buffalo tied the game at 8:19, scoring a shorthanded goal off a 2-on-2 rush. Nathan Gerbe rifled the puck high into the net from right wing for his third goal of the season---Buffalo's third shorthanded tally this year.
As for Richards, after laying on the ice for a few minutes, he was helped to the Rangers dressing room. Fortunately he was able to return to the game shortly thereafter and finish the third period and overtime.
The wild finish continued through overtime when the Rangers were forced to kill off a delay of game penalty to Nash which carried over for 1:27 from the third period, and then a boarding penalty by Dan Girardi 54 seconds into the overtime period. Behind a stout Lundqvist, who made seven saves in the five-minute overtime, the Rangers killed off the two-man disadvantage and both penalties, and then nearly won the game when Girardi's right wing shot with two minutes remaining beat Miller, but rang off the near post.
The two teams had entered the third period separated by one goal after 40 minutes of tight-checking defense-first hockey in which there were very few prime scoring opportunities for either side. The lone goal was scored by Buffalo's Drew Stafford 8:04 into the second period. Sabres rookie Mikhail Grigorenko won an offensive zone faceoff, slid the puck back to Stafford, and Stafford let loose a quick and accurate shot that ticked off Lundqvist's glove and into the cage for his second goal of the season---and the lone goal for either team through two periods of play.
The Rangers, who had the better of the play in the first period, but yielded that advantage to the Sabres in the middle twenty minutes, nearly tied the game while on the penalty kill late in the second period. Moments after Brian Boyle had the puck knocked off his stick on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush, Jeff Halpern sped towards Miller on a 2-on-2 shorthanded rush, but had his in-tight attempt denied.
A bit earlier Lundqvist made a fine save on Gerbe's shot following a Ryan McDonagh turnover, and then spraled out to his right to deny Steve Ott's rebound try. After facing only four shots in the first period, Lundqvist saw 14 in the second. Lundqvist finished with 28 saves, including the big seven he made in overtime.
Other than the save on Halpern, perhaps Miller's best save in the first 40 minutes came early in the first period after Stepan intercepted a pass at the Sabres blueline and then quickly hammered a hard slap shot on net, which an alert Miller made look fairly routine.
The Rangers, who had those two big kills during overtime, finished the night a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill with defenseman Marc Staal standing out with his exemplary effort. The Blueshirts were also 2-for-4 on the power play, to complete a big night on the special teams.
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