After a disappointing shootout loss against the Vancouver Canucks, the New York Rangers responded tonight with a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Along with the two points, Mackenzie Skapski also earned his first career NHL win in the first start of his young professional career. Rick Nash was credited with the game-winning goal tonight, and he notched his 37th goal of the season.
Prior to tonight's game, the Rangers mentioned on the MSG broadcast how they wanted to put together a solid defensive performance tonight. With Mackenzie Skapski getting his first NHL start in between the pipes tonight, the Rangers wanted to make it as easy as possible for the rookie goaltender. However, things went completely south right off the start, and the Sabres capitalized just 14 seconds into regulation.
The Rangers wound up winning an early defensive zone face-off, but Marc Staal and Kevin Klein had a bit of a miscue, and coughed up the puck below the goal line. Torrey Mitchell was able to scoop up the loose puck, and dished a quick centering feed out to Matt Moulson, who was standing all alone in front of the net. Skapski didn't really have a chance once the puck hit Moulson's stick, and the Sabres took the early 1-0 lead over the Rangers.
The goal was obviously a massive wake up call for the Rangers, and after leaving their goaltender out to dry, they went to work. With the exception of maybe two shifts, the Rangers sustained an immense amount of pressure in the Sabres end, and eventually found the game-tying goal. Carl Hagelin was the recipient, and he converted on a bit of a broken play to break in all alone on a breakaway. J.T. Miller flipped the puck through the middle from his own end, and it bounced right to Hagelin after hitting a rut in the ice.
With Michal Neuvirth biting on the initial shot fake, Hagelin made a quick move to his backhand, and slipped the puck through his legs. In the closing seconds of the first period, the Sabres created some havoc in the Rangers end, but Skapski was able to make a few key saves in close to keep the game knotted at 1-1. The Rangers picked right back where they left off in the first period, and quickly extended their lead early in the second period.
Just 37 seconds in, Rick Nash converted on a beautiful cross-ice saucer pass from Derick Brassard, and he smoked by Neuvirth. The Sabres were pretty much lifeless throughout the second period, and eight minutes after Nash gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead, Zuccarello extended it to 3-1. Once again, the line of Zuccarello, Brassard, and Nash connected on a quick passing play through the neutral zone, and Nash eventually broke in on a partial breakaway.
With a defender draped all over him, Nash was able to power his way to the net, but wound up putting the puck off of the post. Mats Zuccarello was in the right place at the right time, and was able to knock home the wide open rebound for his 12th goal on the season. The Rangers continued to put pressure on in the offensive zone, and could have made it a 4-1 game if not for Derek Stepan ringing a shot off the post over to the side of the net.
At this point in the game, Skapski didn't really have a ton of work under his belt, but a late flurry by the Sabres gave him his biggest workload of the night. On a shot through traffic, Skapski was able to get a toe on Matt Moulson's deflection, and also got a piece of the rebound while on his backside. He was able to keep both chances out of his net, and allowed the Rangers to head into the third period with a 3-1 lead.
After scorching the Sabres in the second period, the Rangers fell back a bit in the third period, and both teams were kept scoreless for the final 20 minutes. The Rangers had plenty of chances to extend their lead even further, but Michal Neuvirth stood on his head, and turned away the final opportunities.
Mackenzie Skapski also had a decent third period as well, and made a couple of big saves to preserve the two goal lead late in the third period. Skapski also faced 13 shots in the third period alone, which was twice as many shots as he faced over the first 40 minutes combined.
Even though it was against the Buffalo Sabres, any combination of two points are crucial at this point of the season, and it really doesn't matter who you get them against. The Rangers will have a scheduled off day tomorrow as they head back to Madison Square Garden for a meeting on Sunday with Columbus Blue Jackets.