The New York Rangers picked up two huge points tonight, and with a little help from the Tampa Bay Lightning, they have officially locked up the #2 seed in the Metro Division. This game started off very, very sluggish for the Rangers, as they basically let the Sabres roam free for a majority of the period. Henrik Lundqvist deserves a lot of praise as he once again kept the Rangers in that game in the early going.
However, when you let the Sabres hang around for as long as they did tonight, it will likely come back to bite you. Sure enough, nine minutes into the second period the Sabres broke through with the first goal of the game. After being trapped in their zone, the puck eventually made it's way out to Mike Weber who flicked a light wrist shot at the net. Drew Stafford got a piece of it on the way in, and deflected just under the pad of Lundqvist for the 1-0 lead.
For whatever reason, it took a goal against for the Rangers to find their game, and they basically harassed the Sabres for the rest of the second period. After outshooting them 18-1 throughout the period, the Rangers finally found the tying goal with 30 seconds remaining. Mats Zuccarello made a jaw dropping saucer pass through the middle of the ice, and found a cutting Benoit Pouliot to the right of net. Without wasting much time, Pouliot ripped a wicked wrister over the shoulder of Matt Hackett, and finally the Rangers were back in this one.
As good of a period as the second once, the Rangers struggled in the opening half of the third period. The Sabres took advantage of their lackluster play, and if not for Henrik Lundqvist, this game would have easily slipped away. The Rangers got into a bit of penalty trouble as well, but they were able to kill them off in succession, and gained some momentum nearing the end of the game.
It wound up paying off in the end as with a little under two minutes remaining, Rick Nash broke through with his ninth game winning goal of the season. Even though Staal didn't pick up an assist on the goal, he was the primary creator of this goal. He makes a solid tape to tape pass in the neutral zone, and springs Derek Stepan on a 3-on-2 with Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis. Stepan quickly dished it to St. Louis, who immediately found Nash open up high for the one-timer.
Nash wound up putting all of his weight behind the shot and scorched it Hackett's glove for the go-ahead goal. Alain Vigneault has had trouble finding a line that works well with St. Louis since he's arrived here, but I think over the last two games, he's found his match. St. Louis has been working absolute wonders with both Stepan and Nash, and if that line can gather up some chemistry, they're going to be one lethal line heading forward.
Couple that with the deadly line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, and Benoit Pouliot, and you have yourself some serious scoring lines heading into the playoffs. Now that the Rangers have locked up their spot, Saturday's game is basically rendered meaningless, which means Alain Vigneault can start resting some of his players. Henrik Lundqvist will most likely get the night off, as will Ryan McDonagh, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered a few games ago.
So now we wait to see who the Rangers will match up with in the first round of the playoffs. At this point, it can only be either the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Philadelphia Flyers, but with how close those two are, you never know what could happen.