After the New York Rangers dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night, the team collectively reiterated that they needed to build on that momentum in order to play consistently and pull out more wins. So it was no surprise that at the start of their game against the Buffalo Sabres Sunday night at the Garden the Rangers seemed to have a jump in their step. But the Sabres proved to be a worthy opponent, and the Rangers had to comeback from behind and beat Ryan Miller one-on-one in a shootout before they collected the extra point and beat the Sabres 2-3.
Rick Nash, who had an assist and a goal in regulation and a goal in the shootout, was again the star of the night for the Rangers. His style of play, the way he protects the puck and his presence on the ice lifts the Rangers’ game to a whole new level. He creates countless offensive opportunities for the team and was a major reason the power play went 2 for 3 last night.
The game started pretty slowly as both teams would not give an inch. Miller and Henrik Lundqvist were rarely tested, only facing seven and four shorts respectively, and the first period ended in a stalemate. A problem for the Rangers this season has been second-period play, as most of the goals against the team have come in this period, and this game proved to be no different. A little disenchanted and lacking energy, but not effort, according to Coach John Tortorella, the Rangers began to slack on their forecheck and gave the Sabres chances to get to Lundqvist, who fended off all the attacks until 8:04 when Buffalo’s Drew Stafford lifted the puck over Lundqvist’s glove and gave the Sabres the lead.
Another game the Rangers would have to come back from behind in order to win and they needed something, a spark, to push them to play harder. That spark came in the third period, probably not in the form the team would have wanted, when on the power play, Brad Richards was hit from behind by Andrej Sekera and went head first into the boards. Immediately play stopped as Richards stayed down on the ice and received medical attention. After a few moments, Richards was able to skate his way to the Rangers locker room. He would return to finish out the game. For the hit, Sekera received a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
Tortorella called the hit one of the most dangerous he has seen and stated that it stemmed from a lack of respect.
“Each team wants to beat the other team, but you need to respect what is going on on the ice,” he said.
With the burst of energy from the crowd and the team’s desire to make the Sabres pay, the Rangers were able to score two power play goals in a span of 43 seconds. Derek Stepan opened the scoring for the team on the two-man advantage. Stepan, hovering near the left side of the net, received a crisp pass from Nash and chipped it past Miller. With the goal, Nathan Gerbe’s hooking penalty ended, but the Rangers still had the man-advantage as Sekera continued to serve the major. The Rangers gained the zone again and after a few passing sequences, Marian Gaborik found Nash open near the top of right circle and Nash’s shot found its way through traffic and into the back of the net.
“When your teammate puts his body on the line that way you want to make sure you step up and use it to your advantage, and we did,” said Nash postgame.
The Rangers special teams were clicking, and the Sabres didn’t want to feel left out. While still fighting off Sekera’s penalty, which had less than 20 seconds left, Buffalo’s center Gerbe poked the puck out of the defensive zone and created a two-on-one opportunity. Steve Ott carried the puck into the Rangers zone, made a great move past a sliding Nash and found Gerbe open on the ring wing. Gerbe fired the puck past Lundqvist and knotted the game at 2-2.
The third period ended and going into the five-minute overtime period, the Sabres had the advantage. With less than a minute left to play in regulation, Nash was trying to clear the puck when he sent it into the stands and was a called for a delay-of-game penalty. The Sabres started OT on the power play, and it got even better for them as Dan Girardi got called for boarding 54 seconds into the five-minute overtime period and joined Nash in the penalty box. During the power plays, the Sabres were able to rifle off several shots and had numerous opportunities but couldn’t convert and the Rangers ended the night a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
Tortorella, who usually uses Gaborik, Richards and Nash as his top three choices for shoot outs, decided to switch things up, using Nash, Ryan Callahan and J.T. Miller. While Miller might seem like a surprise candidate, Tortorella continues to praise the rookie’s play and was impressed with his shootout attempt against the Ottawa Senators. Although Miller wouldn’t be needed, he must have gained confidence in the fact that Tortorella had faith in his abilities. Nash and Callahan scored, and Lundqvist was able to stop Jason Pominville and Tyler Ennis to give the Rangers the win.
“It felt like it was a big one for us,” said Lundqvist. “It’s important that we start getting wins here and building confidence. This was huge for us.”