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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Ryan Miller stopped 43 of 44 shots during regulation and overtime, and then all three shots he faced in the shootout, as he led the Buffalo Sabres to a 2-1 victory over the Rangers on Friday night at HSBC Arena.
It was a particularly frustrating loss for the Rangers, who opened up a five-game road trip with a tough-to-swallow defeat. The Rangers played an outstanding road contest, dominating Buffalo for long stretches of the match, but ended up securing only one point in the standings instead of the two they likely deserved. The Rangers are now 2-4-2 in their last eight contests.
“That was one of the most complete games that we’ve played in some time now,” stated defenseman Paul Mara, who scored the lone Rangers’ goal in the first period.
The Rangers also accomplished something they had not done since a Nov. 11, 1999 contest in Washington against the Capitals, and that is to play an entire game without being assessed a penalty.
“That was huge,” said Mara. “Any time you can stay out of the penalty box you have a better chance of winning.”
“I thought it was one of our better games of the year in how we managed the puck and played solid defensively,” Drury said. “But Miller played a heckuva’ game. He was fantastic.”
Stephen Valiquette started in goal for the Rangers and was terrific, as well. He stopped 32 of 33 shots he faced over 65 minutes of play before surrendering a goal to Ales Kotalik in the first round of the shootout. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Kotalik’s score was enough to lead the Sabres to their fourth consecutive victory, and fifth in six games.
“That’s a very well played game for us,” said Valiquette, who is now 1-1 in games decided by the shootout this season. “If we play like this every night then we’re very happy with how we’re going to finish the season.”
Rangers’ defenseman Michal Rozsival was forced out of the game at the 3:52 mark of the third period after hitting his head on the edge of an open door by the Sabres’ bench. Rozsival had been checked cleanly by Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad on the play, and the veteran blueliner did not return to the game after heading to the dressing room in need of stitches to close his wound.
“Unfortunately someone was changing and they left the gate open and I hit the corner of the gate,” explained Rozsival. “It was really unfortunate.”
Despite holding a 28-13 shot advantage and dominating most of the action over the first two periods, the Rangers headed to the dressing room after 40 minutes of play in a 1-1 tie with the Sabres.
Mara opened the scoring for the Rangers by driving a shot through a Colton Orr screen for his fourth goal of the season with 36.2 seconds remaining in the first period. Fredrik Sjostrom carried the puck around the Sabres net and found an open Mara just inside the blueline with a perfect pass. Orr positioned himself right in front of Miller, and Mara sent his shot into the back of the net, scoring for the second time in three games.
“Paulie had a great shot and we had a good screen in front. I don’t know how (the puck) made it in, but it did,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “It gave us a great start, which is exactly what we wanted to do.”
Though the Rangers would control play so completely in the second period that the home crowd repeatedly booed their Sabres, it would be Buffalo that would score the only goal in the middle stanza to forge a 1-1 tie heading into the second intermission.
The Rangers had played a nearly flawless road contest until Nigel Dawes had his neutral zone pass intercepted by Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who quickly started the other way with the puck. The Sabres transitioned from defense to offense very quickly as Thomas Vanek accepted Spacek’s head-man pass and then fired a pinpoint feed to the onrushing Drew Stafford on right wing. Stafford’s wrist shot was kicked out by Valiquette’s pad, but Derek Roy beat everyone to the rebound and shoveled the puck under Valiquette for his 15th goal at 16:36 of the second.
The turn of events was stunning because of how completely the Rangers had controlled the match up until that point, playing as near a perfect road contest as a team could.
The Rangers forechecked aggressively and effectively. They produced high-quality scoring chances. They shut down the Sabres offensive game with a smothering team defense. And the Rangers stayed out of the penalty box, playing a disciplined forty minutes without taking a single penalty.
However, with the exception of Mara, the Rangers could not get the puck past Miller, who was sensational over the first two periods, and who was the difference maker in the game.
Miller was extremely poised under the constant pressure the Rangers put forth. Brandon Dubinsky fired six shots on goal over the first two periods and Sjostrom had three quality shots on goal. Miller stopped those nine shots, and was at his best robbing Naslund with a quick glove save midway through the first and in denying Zherdev’s spinning shot from the slot 6:15 into the second.
In the minutes leading up to Roy’s game-tying goal, Miller turned in huge stops on Drury’s booming shot from 30 feet out, Wade Redden’s deflected power play slap shot, and Blair Betts’ hard snap shot from left wing.
Those saves were all crucial because they kept Buffalo’s deficit at one, and Roy’s goal just validated Miller’s solid work.
At the other end of the ice Valiquette did not face a shot in the second period until nearly 10 minutes had elapsed off of the game clock, this after facing only seven shots in the opening stanza.
Valiquette faced much more pressure after Roy tied the game, though, as Buffalo finally started to pull its game together. And when the Sabres came out flying to start the third period, Valiquette had to be sharp, which he was in denying 11 shots in the first nine minutes of the final period.
“We had a pretty desperate team on our hands in the third period, but Steve was definitely there and our five ‘D’ really helped him out,” said Rangers head coach Tom Renney.
Perhaps Valiquette’s best save came eight minutes into the third when Stafford chipped a rebound towards the upper part of the net, but Valiquette flashed out his glove and deflected the puck high into the air. The Rangers’ goalie then was helped out by Staal, who punched the puck out of midair toward the safety of the right wing corner.
The Rangers finally settled down midway through the third and the line of Scott Gomez, Ryan Callahan, and Naslund went to work creating a plethora of excellent scoring chances. But Miller again turned in one terrific -- and often acrobatic -- save after another to keep the score tied 1-1.
When the horn sounded to call an end to regulation, the Sabres had fired 16 shots at Valiquette in the third period and the Rangers had countered with 11 at Miller. But with both goalies impenetrable, the score remained tied and the two teams headed to overtime. And again, neither goalie could be beaten in the five-minute OT period, which led the decisive shootout.
Despite the shootout loss tonight, the Rangers will look to carry the many positives from this match into Saturday evening’s tussle in Ottawa against the Senators, the second game of this five-game road swing.
|Teppo Numminen Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Paul Gaustad Tripping against Brandon Dubinsky|
|SA: 33||TOI: 65:00|
|Saves: 32||EV: 32 - 33|
|PIM: 0||PP: 0 - 0|
|SV%: .970||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 44||TOI: 65:00|
|Saves: 43||EV: 37 - 38|
|PIM: 0||PP: 6 - 6|
|SV%: .977||SH: 0 - 0|