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• PHOTO GALLERY
• RANGERS GAME CENTER
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The first five games of their season-high six-game road trip helped vault the Rangers back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. However the road trip’s finale was no help to their postseason hopes.
The Rangers closed out their six-game road swing with a 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on Tuesday night. As a result of Philadelphia’s victory at Toronto on Tuesday, the Rangers, who went 4-1-1 on the trip, are now three points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with three games to play.
Ryan Miller surrendered two first-period goals, but settled down to turn in a 30-save performance for the Sabres, who clinched the Northeast Division title with Tuesday’s victory.
Buffalo scored twice in the second period to snag a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes of play. In the process they drove Henrik Lundqvist from the Rangers’ nets. Rangers head coach John Tortorella decided to remove Lundqvist from the game at 5:17 of the second period and replace him with Alex Auld after Jochen Hecht whipped a shot off the rush on right wing into the back of the net, giving the Sabres a 3-2 advantage at the time.
“I am not going to dissect it here, he just needed to come out,” Tortorella said of his decision to pull Lundqvist. “We didn’t play well enough to win. We have another game to play tomorrow and we need to be better from our goaltending on out.”
Lundqvist allowed three goals on 16 shots before being replaced by Auld, who had not appeared in a game since March 10 in New Jersey. A distraught Lundqvist, who received encouraging slaps to the shoulder pads from Tortorella upon reaching the bench, sat for several minutes with his facemask still covering his face. Eventually he lifted the mask up and let it remain perched atop his head.
“I was surprised, but at the same time it’s up to John,” Lundqvist said. “I just have to deal with it. I wanted to play, but it’s his call.”
Auld stopped the first five shots he faced, but, at the same time, Miller was turning in one big save after another at the other end of the ice. No save was bigger or more outstanding than the one he made against Marian Gaborik at 9:16 of the second period.
Following a steal by Michal Rozsival in the neutral zone, the Rangers took off on a 3-on-1 rush towards Miller’s net. Brandon Dubinsky carried the puck on right wing and saucered a perfect pass to Gaborik on his left. Gaborik fired a one-timer towards the gaping net, but Miller lunged to his right and somehow got his stick on Gaborik’s shot, deflecting it above the glass behind the cage, as good a save as has been made in the NHL this season.
“Gaby throws it back towards the short side and gets it away quick enough, but Miller came across hard and it’s just a great save,” said Tortorella. “It was an important part of the game, and a real turning point, because a few minutes later we just have an awful line change that costs us a goal.”
Four minutes later, the Sabres broke through against Auld to grab their first two-goal lead of the night. Defenseman Toni Lydman scored as the trailer off a 4-on-3 rush at 13:22 to put the Rangers in a 4-2 hole -- a deficit the visitors continued to face heading into the third period.
It was a far different feeling for the Rangers felt after 20 minutes of play. Playing a spirited back-and-forth contest in the first period, the Rangers scored first, fell behind by a goal, and then pulled even as the two teams skated to a 2-2 standoff in the opening stanza.
“I thought we had a pretty good first period,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “I thought for the most part it was a pretty even period.”
Brandon Prust opened the scoring at 6:57, potting a goal for the third consecutive game. Prust won a battle for the puck between the circles from Sabres defenseman Chris Butler and proceeded to snap a rising shot top-shelf shot past Miller for his fifth goal of the season.
Prust’s linemate Artem Anisimov started the scoring play with a takeaway at the blueline. It was one of a series of strong shifts for the Rangers’ fourth line of Anisimov, Prust, and Jody Shelley on the night.
In fact, many of the best shifts during the game turned in by the Rangers were by their third and fourth lines as Chris Drury, Aaron Voros, and Ryan Callahan -- who returned to the lineup after missing four games with a knee injury -- also were extremely strong on the forecheck.
Callahan made his presence felt 12:56 into the opening period with a tremendous check that leveled 6-foot-8 defenseman Tyler Myers of Buffalo and incited retaliation from Sabres’ winger Derek Roy.
Just three minutes before squaring off with Callahan, Roy had tied the game with his 24th goal of the season at 9:57. Teammate Drew Stafford provided Buffalo its first lead by beating Lundqvist through the pads at 14:56.
“They made some good plays when they entered over the blueline and we had some problems coming back,” said Lundqvist. “They’re probably one of the better teams in the league to join the rush, and that’s how they beat us tonight.”
The Rangers, though, were able to tie the game 2-2 late in the first period by scoring a power-play goal against the league’s top penalty-killing team. Dubinsky won a faceoff to start the play; and PA Parenteau finished it off by tapping the rebound of Girardi’s blast over the goal line at 18:18.
Tyler Ennis capped a three-point performance for Buffalo by netting his third goal of the season at 2:06 of the third period to close out the scoring.
The Rangers now must gain at least a point out of Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden, when they skate against the Maple Leafs, in order to be able to pass Philadelphia in the standings by sweeping the Flyers in the home-and-home finale. Montreal and Boston are the other teams the Rangers can pass in the standings.
All teams currently below the Blueshirts have already been eliminated from the playoff race, leaving the Rangers, Montreal, Boston and Philadelphia in a fight for the last three berths.
|Brandon Prust (5) ASST: Anders Eriksson (5), Artem Anisimov (13)|
1 - 0 NYR
|PPG - Derek Roy (24) ASST: Tyler Ennis (4), Jason Pominville (37)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Drew Stafford (14) ASST: Tyler Myers (36), Paul Gaustad (10)|
2 - 1 BUF
|PPG - Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (3) ASST: Dan Girardi (17), Brandon Dubinsky (22)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Jochen Hecht (21) ASST: Jason Pominville (38), Tyler Ennis (5)|
3 - 2 BUF
|Toni Lydman (4) ASST: Drew Stafford (19), Steve Montador (17)|
4 - 2 BUF
|Tyler Ennis (3) ASST: Steve Montador (18)|
5 - 2 BUF
|Drew Stafford Too many men/ice - bench|
|Michal Rozsival Holding against Raffi Torres|
|Derek Roy Cross checking against Ryan Callahan|
|Ryan Callahan Roughing against Derek Roy|
|Matt Ellis Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Dan Girardi Tripping against Tim Kennedy|
|Drew Stafford Hooking against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Chris Drury Hooking against Tim Kennedy|
|Jody Shelley Roughing against Jason Pominville|
|Jody Shelley Roughing against Ryan Miller|
|Ryan Miller Roughing against Jody Shelley|