One day after agreeing to terms on a contract extension that should make him a Ranger for life, Henrik Lundqvist began delivering on his new deal, making 27 saves in a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night at the First Niagara Center. Lundqvist came within 2:06 of earning his third shutout of the season before Buffalo finally scored on their 27th shot against him.
Rick Nash scored in the opening period and Brad Richards added a goal in the third as the Rangers upped their record to 15-14-0. They are now 10-8-0 on the road, tying them for second in the league with ten road victories. Mats Zuccarello contributed a goal and an assist to the winning effort.
With the Rangers clinging to a 1-0 lead in the third period, Lundqvist made the save of the game, robbing Cody Hodgson at the seven-minute mark after Hodgson flew past Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Lundqvist stretched out and made a sensational right-pad save on Hodgson, who then followed seconds later by being assessed a tripping penalty in the offensive zone.
The Rangers made the Sabres pay for Hodgson's penalty when Richards whipped a right-wing shot past goaltender Ryan Miller at 8:29, doubling the visitors' advantage to 2-0. The goal was Richards' team-high eighth of the season and was the team's fifth on the power play in the past five games.
A minute after scoring the Rangers nearly gave one back as Sabres captain Steve Ott was all alone in the slot, but Lundqvist denied his point-blank shot and the Rangers finished things off from there.
Zuccarello beat Miller with a hard wrist shot from left wing with 5:13 to play for his fifth goal of the season. He had earlier assisted on Richards' power play goal, giving him a three-game point-scoring streak.
Tyler Ennis scored in front to ruin Lundqvist's shutout bid at 17:54.
In a first period lacking in scoring chances for either team, Nash scored a highlight-reel goal at 17:47 to put the Rangers ahead 1-0. Sprung behind the Sabres defense by a Derek Stepan set tip pass, Nash approached Miller with speed and then used his long reach to pull the puck back and tuck it past the Sabres goalie after he had vacated the near post.
The goal was Nash's fifth in nine games since returning from a six-week injury absence and his ninth in 14 career games against Buffalo. Stepan picked up his team-high 15th assist on the goal, and McDonagh stretched his career-high point-scoring streak to five consecutive games with a secondary assist on the goal. McDonagh earned a second assist in the game on Zuccarello's goal late in the third period.
The second period followed in suit with little action and very few scoring chances until late in the period. Lundqvist made a terrific glove save on Marcus Foligno's rising left-wing snap shot at 15:53, and followed a minute later by fighting off a hard right-wing shot through a screen. At the other end of the ice Zuccarello rang a right-wing shot off the post on a give-and-go play with 55 seconds to play in the period.
For as many legitimate scoring chances the Sabres presented Lundqvst with, there were likely more missed opportunities where Buffalo failed to even record a shot on goal. Indecision on pulling the trigger despite having an open shot cost the Sabres several times, allowing the Rangers to regroup and further thwart scoring opportunities.
Taylor Pyatt and John Moore, who were both healthy scratches the previous two games, returned to the lineup Thursday night for New York. Pyatt took the place of Derek Dorsett, who has a sore wrist, and played on a line with Carl Hagelin and Derick Brassard. Moore replaced Justin Falk in the lineup and paired on defense with Michael Del Zotto.
The Rangers return to action Saturday night when they host the Devils at The Garden, the start of a nine-game homestand.