NEW YORK – Saturday night’s game wasn’t handed to the Rangers on a silver platter.
No, it was handed to them on a blue and gold platter, hand-delivered by an undisciplined and unfocused Sabres team that allowed four goals in a span of 3:48 during the first period, three of them coming on man-up situations for the Rangers.
New York cruised from there to a 6-1 win, setting their season-high for goals in a game.
“We’re really close to where we were last year [during] the second half,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 24 saves. “It took us a few weeks to get there, but I think we all feel like we’re playing a game right now where, everybody’s helping out, we’re making smart decisions. We need to continue to build on this.”
Buffalo (14-23-3) took three penalties in a span of 1:31 during their woeful first period malaise. First, there was Andrej Meszaros’ trip of Lee Stempniak at 8:32 – Derick Brassard deflected the first Rangers goal past Michal Neuvirth 14 seconds later.
“We’re such a better team with the lead,” said defenseman Marc Staal, referencing the Rangers’ 17-4-2 record when scoring first. “When we have great starts, we’re a lot harder team to play against. It makes teams cheat a little bit and do things they don’t want to do, and we’re able to capitalize on top of that.”
Before play resumed, Sabres coach Ted Nolan was issued a bench minor for abuse of officials. One minute, seven seconds later, J.T. Miller found Chris Kreider cutting to the net, who went to the backhand to make it 2-0.
Cody McCormick hooked Kreider on the way into scoring that goal, so the Rangers went right back to the man advantage, with Rick Nash scoring 1:25 later.
“We were probably out of it before it even started,” Nolan said of his team’s performance. “I thought the first five, six minutes we had some good energy with a better start than last night. All of a sudden, a bad penalty. They get one [goal]. Then all of a sudden, they get another one and another one and then the game is over.”
“Any time a team’s coming into a back-to-back in a road game, we know how it is on the other end,” said defenseman Dan Boyle. “You get in late, the legs sometimes aren’t there early, so it was important to get off to a quick start. Our power play did the job for us tonight.”
It took the Rangers another 1:16 to make it 4-0, when Boyle beat the ineffective Neuvirth at even strength. The Buffalo goalie, starting for the second time in as many nights, allowed four goals on nine shots.
“They probably weren’t at their best tonight,” Boyle said of the Sabres. “We got off to a good start, guys played well. We had some good looks, thought we could have scored a few more, but guys were working hard, in position, and making some good plays out there.”
It was an important game for the Rangers (21-11-4), who have a difficult stretch coming up – a three-game road swing through Western Conference powers Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose, followed by a home game against the division-leading Islanders and road matches against conference foes Boston, Columbus, and Pittsburgh.
“I think it’s good for our confidence before the road trip,” said forward Derick Brassard. “I think it’s the hardest road trip of the season, the California one. We’re going to play some really good teams.”
“It’s going to be a great test for us. They’re really great teams. There’s some memories out there as well for us. We’ll see what it feels like walking into that building,” Lundqvist said, referencing the matchup against the Kings, who beat the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final last June. “We’re excited to go. It’s a good test for us right now, we’ve been playing really good hockey.”
Despite winning ten of their last 11 and 14 of their last 18 games, the real test begins now for the Rangers.
They won’t be getting handed anything on a platter anytime soon.
The Rangers’ franchise record for power-play goals in a game is six, set in 1993 against the old Quebec Nordiques.
The team record for their three quickest power-play goals is 1:10, which they set on Nov. 21, 1995 against the Penguins.
The Rangers have scored at least five goals eight times this season; a feat they accomplished nine times all of last year.