By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Although the Rangers spotted the Buffalo Sabres a pair of two-goal leads on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts stormed back quickly both times, but were never able to score the equalizer and ended up dropping a 3-2 decision.
Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller made a slew of sensational saves during the game, perhaps none more important than his lunging glove save with one minute left in regulation on Mats Zuccarello. Miller finished with 29 saves as the Sabres moved to within three points of the Rangers in the Eastern Conference standings, with Buffalo holding three games in hand.
“Miller made some key saves in the third period, and we certainly had enough opportunities to get another one by him,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “We were able to come back twice, but we had more opportunities and we just couldn’t cash them in.”
Zuccarello, who had four shots on goal in the game, not only was robbed by Miller in the final minute of play. Earlier in the third period, Zuccarello crashed the crease and jammed a puck between Miller’s pads, but the Sabres’ netminder reached back and swatted the puck off the goal line, thus negating what seemed to be the game-tying goal.
The hard-luck Zuccarello, who did earn an assist on Tuesday, has now gone 17 games without scoring a goal.
“We hit posts, we hit knobs of sticks, and Zuc himself had three or four Grade A chances,” said Tortorella. “We battled back, we kept on coming, but we just couldn’t solve Miller.”
Trailing 2-1 entering the third period, the Rangers let Jochen Hecht slip behind their defense and he easily redirected a pretty pass from Andrej Sekera past Henrik Lundqvist just 4:45 into the period, putting the home team in its second two-goal hole of the night.
Artem Anisimov, however, answered back by scoring his 14th goal of the season from the slot as he was falling to the ice at 6:05, and the Rangers largely dominated play from that point forward. They just could not find a way to beat Miller again.
“He’s a good goaltender and he always gives them a chance to win,” Vinny Prospal said of Miller. “But it comes down to that we are not scoring enough at home to win games here. It seems like we are not able to capitalize on their mistakes. And it has been the difference lately.”
The Rangers have dropped the first two games of their current three-game homestand and are 2-5-1 in their last eight contests at MSG.
Through 40 minutes of play, neither team was able to score at even strength, but there were three power-play goals scored during that time as Buffalo carried a 2-1 lead into the third period.
The Sabres took advantage of the game’s first penalty — an interference call against New York’s Michael Sauer with three minutes to play in the first period — to grab a 1-0 lead. Hulking defenseman Tyler Myers hammered a slap shot towards the Rangers’ net which deflected off Dan Girardi and past Lundqvist at 17:45. Myers’ 10th goal was originally credited to Tomas Vanek, who was screening Lundqvist in front, but was later awarded to Myers.
Trailing 1-0 after being outshot 9-5 in the first period, the Rangers came alive in the second behind a hard-hitting and aggressive forecheck, peppering Miller with 16 shots. Yet despite several excellent scoring chances by the Rangers — including a one-timer from five-feet out by Zuccarello that was denied by Miller’s right pad at the 11-minute mark — it was Buffalo that scored next to secure a 2-0 lead.
With Wojtek Wolski in the penalty box for tripping, Buffalo’s Brad Boyes — who was acquired from St. Louis prior to Monday’s NHL trade deadline — scored a power-play goal off a gorgeous no-look, backhand feed from Paul Gaustad on Lundqvist’s doorstep 13 minutes into the middle stanza.
Entering play on Tuesday, the Sabres had converted on just two of their last 22 power play opportunities over a span of nine games. Boyes’ goal was the Sabres’ second in three power-play chances on Tuesday night.
“We gave up a couple on the (penalty) kill and usually we’re better than that,” said Brian Boyle.
The Rangers finally found a way to beat Miller when Erik Christensen snapped a wicked shot from right wing past his glove hand at 13:45. The power play goal was assisted by veteran newcomer Bryan McCabe, who calmly opened the ice for Christensen by drawing two Sabres towards him at the blueline before sending a pass into the right circle.
“There’s nothing we can do about this (loss) now,” said Christensen, who has scored three goals in his last three games, and now has nine on the season. “They played well, but we played well, also. We got down early, took more penalties than we wanted, and then just couldn’t complete the comeback.”
The Rangers close out this homestand on Thursday night when they host the Minnesota Wild. The following night, they will play in Ottawa against the Senators before returning home for a Sunday afternoon matinee against the Philadelphia Flyers at The Garden.