Goaltending duel goes Buffalo's way
Lundqvist sharp again with 34 stops, but Sabres find way to win 1-0 game
|Rangers forward Artem Anisimov slips away from Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers on Wednesday. Anisimov had an apparent goal disallowed late in the first because of incidental contact in the crease.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
In one of their most important games of the season on Wednesday night against the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena, the Rangers seemed to receive a big break in their favor before the contest had even started.
Unfortunately, the absence of Buffalo’s star goaltender Ryan Miller due to an upper-body injury did not provide the expected lift for the visitors, and the Blueshirts dropped a 1-0 decision to the Sabres.
Buffalo’s backup goalie, 22-year-old Jhonas Enroth, stepped in to make his first start since March 13 and stopped all 23 shots he faced to post his first career NHL shutout. In doing so Enroth helped the Sabres pull even with the Rangers for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 87 points with five games to play, and both the Rangers and Sabres are only three points ahead of ninth-place Carolina, which beat Montreal 5-2 on Wednesday.
“He was on fire today,” Artem Anisimov said of Enroth. “We thought we would score a lot more. But this was a tough game. I thought both teams played pretty even, but he was just a little bit better.”
Henrik Lundqvist turned in another strong performance in goal for the Rangers, nearly matching Enroth save for save, but ended up on the short side of the final score. Lundqvist turned aside 34 shots on Wednesday.
“We haven’t been scoring a lot of goals the last few games, but we have defended well and obviously Henrik has played really well,” said alternate captain Marc Staal. “Hank did his job, but we just couldn’t find the back of the net tonight.”
|Starting his 21st consecutive game, Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist had another remarkable showing on Wednesday, stopping 34 of 35 shots. He has allowed just two goals over his past four starts.
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With Buffalo skating on the game’s first power play with Staal in the box for an interference penalty, Tim Connolly hammered a slap shot from the top of the left circle which beat Lundqvist top-shelf to the stick side to put Buffalo up 1-0.
Connolly’s goal held up through the end of the period, and the Rangers faced a one-goal deficit entering the third period. At worst the Rangers felt they should have been tied after 40 minutes of play.
Anisimov had swept a loose puck past Enroth and into the back of the cage at 17:58 of the first period. However, as soon as Anisimov raised his arms in celebration the referee emphatically waved off the score, explaining moments later that there had been “incidental contact on the goaltender” with Ryan Callahan battling in front. Although no penalty for interference was assessed on the play, the Rangers were denied what would have been the game’s first goal.
“I was very surprised,” Anisimov said following the game. “I asked the referee why he made that call after the first period, and he explained it to me. I said OK that’s his decision. It was still zero-zero and we had our chances. Nothing had changed. We still needed to play our game.”
The Rangers had scrambled the first half of the opening stanza -- being outshot 9-1 -- but settled down in the latter half of the period. Still, Lundqvist was forced to make his best save of the opening 20 minutes with one minute to go when he robbed Tomas Vanek from in tight after Vanek had made a brilliant move to free himself on left wing.
|Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi lands a big hit against Buffalo's Tim Connolly during Wednesday night's game at HSBC Arena. Connolly scored the game's lone goal on a second-period power play.
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Before the second intermission could arrive, however, the Rangers received a major scare when Lundqvist came up limping badly after a scramble near his crease. With trainer Jim Ramsay alongside him, Lundqvist flexed his right leg and stretched out his back and groin, and eventually decided to remain in the game.
When the second period ended, Lundqvist very slowly made his way off the ice to the locker room. It was only a mild surprise, though, when Lundqvist -- who has started 21 consecutive games -- led the Rangers back on to the ice to open the third period.
“This was a big game, and obviously we are disappointed not to have made more ground on them,” said Staal. “But we have a game tomorrow and we have the chance to move right past them again. That’s our focus now.”
The Rangers are right back in action on Thursday night when they skate against the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum. They will play their final road game of the 2010-11 regular season on Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“We are not excited about the way we played tonight, so I think it’s good that we play tomorrow night,” said Staal. “We can just move by this one and get a win tomorrow.”