By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Marcus Foligno scored twice and fill-in starter Jhonas Enroth made 32 saves as the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Rangers 3-1 Tuesday night at the First Niagara Center. The Rangers, who play in Winnipeg on Thursday and in Pittsburgh on Saturday, have now split the first two games of their season-high four-game road trip.
Enroth made the start in goal for the Sabres because Ryan Miller had a sinus infection. The win was Enroth's first of the season in five appearances and snapped a personal 0-10-3 winless streak for him dating back to last season. The victory was also Buffalo's first in five games (1-2-2).
Foligno's second goal gave Buffalo a two-goal lead at 11:48 of the third period, and it came a minute after the Sabres had stymied the Rangers first power play opportunity of the game. Foligno buried a rebound of Andrej Sekera's shot for his third goal of the season, and second of the night. To that point the Rangers had been outshooting the Sabres 10-0 in the third period.
After a scoreless first period in which the Rangers controlled large swaths of the play, the visitors lost their way in the second period, scrambling and playing undisciplined hockey. That they only trailed 2-1 after 40 minutes seemed a break for the Rangers considering how poorly the middle stanza went for them.
Interestingly the Rangers actually scored first in the second period, and should have received a major jolt of energy from Derek Stepan's shorthanded goal at 4:17. Instead the Rangers surrendered goals to Foligno at 5:35 and Thomas Vanek at 12:40, and paraded to the penalty box on four occasions before the period was complete.
The penalties actually did not hurt the Rangers---except in the fact that it kept players like Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik pinned to the bench as their teammates killed off all four Sabres power plays. In fact the Rangers had three shorthanded shots on goal while the Sabres managed only a pair of shots during their power plays. And Stepan netted the team's second shorthanded goal of the season---off a Ryan Callahan assist---to put the visitors on top 1-0 with Darroll Powe sitting in the penalty box. It was the fifth shorty allowed by Buffalo this season.
But skating 5-on-5 again the Sabres pinned the Rangers in their own end, and Foligno tied the game just one minute 18 seconds after Stepan's goal when he took a carom off the back wall and put the puck between his legs and into the cage with Henrik Lundqvist trying to jet across his crease.
Then with 7:20 to play in the middle period, Vanek accepted a perfect cross-ice home run pass from Jason Pominville off the left wing boards and blew past Dan Girardi for a breakaway. Vanek rifled his 14th goal of the season past Lundqvist with Girardi trailing in pursuit, and the Rangers were behind 2-1.
Late penalties to Matt Gilroy at 14:07 and Girardi at 16:43 forced the Rangers to focus on defense as opposed to trying to generate offense to tie the game, and they landed at the second intermission trailing by a goal, while being outshot 19-15.
During the first period the Rangers outshot the Sabres 10-7, but it was Buffalo which had the best opportunity to score. At the 12 minute mark Lundqvist made a pair of simply incredible acrobatic saves on Vanek, including a second one in which Lundqvist lifted his left leg while laying on his stomach to rob Vanek's rebound attempt.
Rugged Michael Haley started the third period by being moved up to the second line, playing alongside Callahan and Stepan. Haley played a season-hgih 10:06, had a pair of shots on goal---including one from point-blank range early in the third that was denied by Enroth---and two hits, as a rare Rangers bright spot in the game.