It’s not how you start, but how you end.
Mackenzie Skapski allowed a goal just 14 seconds into his first NHL start, but that was all the adversity he’d face Friday night in Buffalo in notching his first win, a 3-1 victory over Buffalo.
Buffalo got on the board off a broken play following a faceoff in the Rangers’ end. Marc Staal’s clearing attempt was blocked by Kevin Klein’s skate. Torrey Mitchell found the puck and fed Moulson for the easy tap in to put the Sabres up 1-0.
“It was tough,” Skapski told MSG Network’s John Giannone after the game. “Being on the road and them scoring 14 seconds in, it’s not the start you want. I seemed to rebound from that and I was golden the rest of the way.”
Defenseman Marc Staal agreed with Skapski’s self-assessment, and said he felt the 20-year-old calmed down and got through the tough start nicely.
“I thought he was pretty relaxed after that,” Staal told MSG Network. “I thought he made some good saves after that. We were able to calm it down in front of him after that.”
It was all Blueshirts after Buffalo’s early goal. Hagelin tied the game at 5:51 when he broke in on Michal Neuvirth and beat the netminder on the backhand through the legs to knot the game.
The Rangers controlled play the rest of the period and had several opportunities to extend their lead, but Neuvirth kept the game tight. The Rangers out-shot the Sabres, 16-6, in the first period.
The second period, though, was too much for Neuvirth and the Sabres, as Nash scored his 37th of the season just 37 seconds into the stanza when he buried a pass from Derick Brassard. The goal brought Nash within one goal of the League leader Alex Ovechkin.
That trio struck again midway through the period when Nash hit the post, but Zuccarello was there to put the rebound into the empty net to make it 3-1. When it was all said and done, the Blueshirts had a 15-6 shot advantage over their hosts, and 31-12 through two periods.
The third, though, was a different story, with most of the play taking place in the Rangers’ end. The Sabres out-shot the Rangers, 13-12, in the final period.
Luckily, after the shaky start, Skapski — who became the first Rangers goalie to win in his NHL debut since Dan Cloutier in January of 1998 — settled in nicely and looked comfortable in the busy period. With the Rangers down a man, Skapski stood tall in making two point-blank stops on Chris Stewart to preserve the two-goal lead.
Late in the third, Skapski robbed Andrej Meszaros with a glove save with the Rangers on the penalty kill.
“I started fighting the puck a little bit in the first,” Skapski told Giannone, “and in the second and third, I was just adjusting to my game and I was calm, cool and collected.”
Vigneault praised the Brassard trio, who combined for two goals and three assists. He said despite the start, the team did what it had to to be successful, and praised Skapski’s play despite him not seeing much action through 40 minutes.
“He had some work in the third period,” Vigneault said. “He didn’t have a lot of work in the first and second. He had some saves he had to make. It was definitely not the way he wanted and we wanted to start.”
If it felt like the Rangers had the puck most of the night, it was because they did. The Blueshirts finished the night with 43 shots and another 32 that either missed the net or were blocked. Compare that to Buffalo’s 25 shots, and just another 18 attempted.
“We talked about before the game of not having those 10 to 12-minute lapses where we’re running all over the place and giving teams chances to score,” Staal said. “I thought we did a better job of cleaning that up. We were more consistent on the defensive end and our backcheck and all the stuff that allows you to hold teams to the outside and let your goaltender see the shots. We did a better job tonight.
Skapski, who became the third-youngest goalie to win a game in team history, said he’s hoping this is the start of good things to come.
“I just want to keep winning,” Skapski said. “Right now, I’m 1-0. I’m undefeated. Hopefully I can keep it rolling for as long as I can.”
The win brought the Rangers back to within three points of the division-leading Islanders, with two games in hand, and two up on Washington for second place in the Metropolitan with two games in hand.
The Rangers open a three-game homestand Sunday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.