By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Buoyed by a season-high offensive explosion Friday night at the First Niagara Center, the Rangers accomplished several important things. First they earned a valuable two points in the standings with their 8-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. Second they secured sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 50 points, two up on ninth place Winnipeg and one behind the seventh place Islanders. And finally the Rangers victory eliminated both the Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers from playoff contention in the East.
The Rangers, who are now 7-2-1 in their last ten games, followed up Thursday's 6-1 home-ice victory over the Florida Panthers by reaching eight goals for the first time since an 8-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on November 14, 2010. Brad Richards scored three times for the Rangers, while both Rick Nash and Ryane Clowe contributed a goal and an assist. Derek Stepan had a pair of assists as 13 different Rangers---including goaltender Henrik Lundqvist---notched at least one point in the game.
Lundqvist, who surrendered three goals in a wild second period in which seven goals were scored by the two teams, was given a 6-0 cushion before the contest was even 28 minutes old.
A stunning turn of events, and some fortuitous bounces in the Rangers favor, turned a sleepy and scoreless first period into a 3-0 lead for the visitors before the first intermission could arrive. Capitalizing on a pair of fortunate bounces and one egregious turnover by Buffalo, the Rangers exploded for three goals in the span of one minute 14 seconds in the final two minutes of play in the period to put a stranglehold on the game against a shocked Sabres squad.
The floodgates opened at 18:42 when Carl Hagelin swooped around the Sabres net and centered a pass into the slot which hit the skate of Buffalo defenseman Adam Pardy, instead of the stick of intended target Ryan Callahan, and slipped over the goal line to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. While a lucky bounce was involved in the score, Hagelin deserves credit for blazing up left wing on the rush and swiftly skating behind the Sabres cage to create his own good luck. The goal was Hagelin's tenth of the season.
Then with 20.1 seconds to play in the first period Richards sent a right wing shot towards the net and the puck hit the back of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff's skate and deflected past goaltender Ryan Miller to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. And before the Sabres could get off the ice without further damage, Miller fanned on his clearing attempt---putting the puck right on the stick of Ryane Clowe, who quickly moved in from the slot and slid the puck into the back of the cage with 3.2 seconds to play for his third goal of the season.
As the Sabres were booed off the ice by their fans, the Rangers were 40 minutes away from removing another obstacle in their way of reaching the post-season. And when they erupted again early in the second period, there was no doubt that the Sabres season was coming to an end, while the Rangers were busy solidifying their positioning.
Anton Stralman's right wing shot from along the boards beat a dazed Miller just 1:13 into the second period to put the visitors ahead 4-0. Stralman's fourth goal of the season---assisted by Clowe---was his first in 26 games. It also drove Miller from the game after the veteran netminder allowed his fourth goal on only 14 shots.
Twenty-seven seconds later Richards tapped a loose puck past just-inserted Buffalo goaltender Jhnonas Enroth for his second goal of the game. Enroth stopped Taylor Pyatt's initial shot, but the puck slipped between his legs and Richards slipped in from left wing to tap the puck of the goal line to make it 5-0 Rangers.
By scoring five goals in a span of 2 minutes 58 seconds the Rangers established a new franchise record for quickest five goals scored. The previous record was set on February 15, 1985 in an 8-7 Garden win over the Edmonton Oilers in which the Rangers scored five time in a span of 3:22.
And they weren't done. Rick Nash made it 6-0, scoring his team-leading 19th goal at the 7:05 mark of the second period.
To the Sabres credit they did not quit on the game. Cody Hodgson scored a power play goal at 13:50, and six seconds later Nathan Gerbe scored on a partial breakaway. Callahan---on a breakaway---and Drew Stafford exchanged goals before the period was over, giving the Rangers a 7-3 lead after two wild periods in Buffalo.
Richards finished his Hat Trick by scoring his third goal with 7:28 remaining in the third period, beating Enroth with a long wrist shot. Incredibly it was the first Hat Trick ever recorded by Richards in 896 career National Hockey League games. He now has four goals in the past two games, and ten on the season.
Rookie defenseman Mark Pysyk scored a power play goal for his first NHL goal with 40 seconds remaining in regulation to close out the scoring.