“It was pretty obvious that the odd man rushes killed us tonight,” Henrik Lundqvist said of the loss to the Sabres.
“We struggled with our backcheck,” coach John Tortorella said three times after the game. “It was that or not making smart decisions with the puck.”
Those were the answers behind Friday’s 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, a team rushing in the final weeks to go from 14th place in the Eastern Conference to earning the final playoff berth. On February 17th, they were 10 points out of the eighth spot. Since then, they’ve gone 11-2-4, trailing Pittsburgh for the league’s best record in that stretch. They’ve gathered at least one point in eight of their last nine games, and 16 in their last 18 games (12-2-4).
Is this record in the final stretch just a strong desire to make it into the playoffs?
“I don’t believe that,” Tortorella said. “I’m not going to play on desperation.”
He believed that this loss was purely due to the Sabres’ ability to capitalize on the odd man rushes, as well as missed opportunities by the Rangers.
Unfortunately for the smallest Ranger in the line-up, 5’7″ Mats Zuccarello suffered a wrist injury after blocking a shot just nine minutes into the game. The fractured wrist keeps him out indefinitely.
So far since his call-up on March 11th, he has posted 2 goals and an assist for three points in the last six games. One of those goals was the game-winning, power play goal on Monday versus the New Jersey Devils.
After Zuccarello attempted to block a shot, he came back to the bench in severe pain. He was on the verge of tears, crying out in pain, as the medical trainer looked over his wrist. He then went back to the locker room with the trainer and did not return. They reported at the end of the period that he would be out indefinitely.
Buffalo was the first to tally a goal in the game. With a scoreless first period, Travis Turnbull, the Sabre that played the least amount of time (3:27) in the entire game for his team, scored the first goal of the game at 3:14 thanks to John Mitchell kicking the puck in. Turnbull skated in only two shifts for a total of 22 seconds in the second period…and he still managed to tally a goal.
Brian Boyle tied up the game at 9:32, only to have Drew Stafford tally another goal for the Sabres at 13:43. Boyle has had an unusual career statistic with the Rangers. In the 20 times that he has scored for the Rangers, the team has gone on to win in 17-2-1 of those matches, including this game.
“Going into the third,” Lundqvist said. “We felt like we had a chance to tie the game. We played pretty well. It was just a couple of turnovers that really cost us in the second. They’re a quick team and we knew that [we had] to be smart with the puck.”
The Rangers thought they had that opportunity to tie up the game just 7:36 into the final period, but the goal was disallowed. Ryan Callahan ended up knocking down Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller and then he, himself, was taken down by one of Miller’s men.
Ends up, the reason why the goal was waved off was due to a whistle prior to the goal.
“I gloved it,” Callahan said of the glove pass on the disallowed goal.
At 14:00, Tyler Ennis scored the Sabres third goal and Stafford tallied his second of the game at 16:09 to give the Sabres a 4-1 victory over the Rangers.
This was a tough match for the Rangers.
“It’s tough when they can walk in and kind of pick their corners,” Lundqvist said. “There were a lot of scoring chances right in front, especially on the odd man rushes. A lot of times, that’s the way you score in hockey when you get 2-on-1 and 3-on-1 opportunities. You have more time to make the play and beat the goalie.”
Even though the Rangers have secured the Eastern Conference’s first playoff berth, the Pittsburgh Penguins could take over the #1 spot in the East, as well as the Atlantic Division. They’re just one win shy of 100 points, and one point behind the Rangers with 98.