The New York Rangers kept their playoff hopes alive this evening as they picked up a huge 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Mika Zibanejad lit up the scoreboard tonight with his third hat trick of the season, while Adam Fox added a trio of assists to fuel the Rangers’ victory. Igor Shesterkin got another start in goal tonight and turned in a 31-save win to pull the Rangers within four points of the final playoff spot.
Mika Zibanejad (17) - Alexis Lafrenière (8) & Ryan Lindgren (15) - 4:49
With the Rangers needing every point they can get at this point in the season, they needed a quick start against a struggling Buffalo Sabres team. It didn’t take very long for the Rangers to take advantage of the Sabres through the neutral zone, and Ryan Lindgren’s outlet pass started a rush the other way. Alexis Lafrenière was able to collect the puck in transition, skated over the opposing blue line, and fed a crisp pass to the middle of the ice. Mika Zibanejad, who was trailing the play, caught the pass and absolutely wired a wrist shot past Dustin Tokarski.
Jeff Skinner (6) - Colin Miller (6) & Jacob Bryson (6) - 6:16
Things never go well when you take an opponent lightly, and the Rangers got a dose of that just under a minute after opening the scoring. Colin Miller was able to get a shot through traffic from just inside the blue line, and it gave Igor Shesterkin some trouble. That left the rebound right at the top of the crease, where Jeff Skinner took a stab at the loose puck. Skinner’s shot flipped up over the top of Shesterkin and fell into the back of the net to tie up the game at 1-1.
Kaapo Kakko (7) - Adam Fox (39) & Filip Chytil (12) - 12:02
The goal against gave the Rangers a pretty quick wakeup call, and they went back to work in the offensive zone. Just past the halfway mark of the period, the Rangers hard work wore the Sabres down and kept them on the ice for an extended shift. The puck eventually worked its way up the Adam Fox, who surprised everyone with a ridiculous pass back across the slot line. Kaapo Kakko was ready and waiting in the right faceoff circle and snapped a heavy one-timer past Dustin Tokarski to put New York back on top.
Mika Zibanejad (18) - Artemiy Panarin (39) & Adam Fox (40) PPG - 17:10
With under three minutes remaining, the Rangers were rewarded with their first power play opportunity after Rasmus Dahlin hauled down Mika Zibanejad. Barely a minute into the man-advantage, the Rangers big guns converted yet again to extend the lead to two goals. After walking the blue line, Adam Fox found Artemiy Panarin open on the left side with plenty of space in front of him. Panarin waited a few seconds before lining up a beautiful deflection in the high slot from Mika Zibanejad and gave New York a two-goal lead heading into the first intermission.
Mika Zibanejad (19) - Pavel Buchnevich (23) & Adam Fox (41) - 2:05
Mika Zibanejad continued his incredible scoring pace very early in the second period and completed his seventh career hat trick just two minutes in. Pavel Buchnevich started the play with great awareness in the neutral zone, and found Mika Zibanejad cutting into the zone with speed. Zibanejad was able to fly past the defenseman after putting the puck between his legs, and fought off another check as he drove the net. Zibanejad capped off the impressive rush by slipping the puck under Tokarski with a quick snap shot, and gave New York a 4-1 lead.
Victor Olofsson (13) - Sam Reinhart (14) & Casey Mittelstadt (8) PPG - 14:47
A pair of penalties late in the period gave Buffalo some momentum and they were able to convert that into their second goal of the night. The Rangers’ second penalty kill unit got caught out on the ice for an extended shift, and to make matters worse, Brett Howden was without a stick. That allowed Victor Olofsson to rotate into a shooting lane with zero pressure, and he absolutely wired a one-timer over the shoulder of Igor Shesterkin.
Kaapo Kakko (8) - Pavel Buchnevich (24) & Zac Jones (1) PPG - 7:06
With the Sabres coming on early in the third period, the Rangers had a golden opportunity early in the third period with Anders Bjork tripping up Brendan Smith. A little over a minute into the man-advantage, the second unit hopped over the boards with full possession in the offensive zone. Zac Jones started the play by walking the blue line, and feeding the puck over to Pavel Buchnevich at the opposite point spot. Buchnevich’s quick shot on goal left a rebound right in the crease and Kaapo Kakko pounced on the loose puck. Kakko’s second goal of the night restored the Rangers’ three-goal lead, and gave Zac Jones his first career NHL point.
Sam Reinhart (21) - Rasmus Dahlin (18) & Dustin Tokarski (1) - 10:34
Even with the Rangers being up by a trio of goals, the Buffalo Sabres weren’t going down without some sort of fight. They were able to turn up the pressure on the Rangers following the goal against, and Sam Reinhart’s 21st of the season pulled them back within a pair of goals. Rasmus Dahlin was able to skate all the way up the ice from his own zone, weaved through the defensemen, and fed a pass back across the ice. Sam Reinhart was locked and loaded in the left faceoff circle, and fired a heavy one-timer past Igor Shesterkin.
Kevin Rooney (8) - Brett Howden (6) ENG - 19:05
New York was tasked with one final penalty kill at the end of the game, and they were able to turn it into another goal on the board. After getting kicked out of the faceoff, Kevin Rooney was able to collect the puck behind his own net, and fired the puck into the empty net.
The Rangers needed a big performance tonight after they got a helping hand from the Pittsburgh Penguins as they defeated the Boston Bruins in regulation. This win moves the Rangers within four points of the final playoff spot, and the very least, keeps their playoff hopes alive going into the final weeks of the season. New York is also starting to get contributions all throughout their lineup, which will be key to their success as they close out the regular season.
Following tonight’s win, the Rangers will have a scheduled off day tomorrow before returning to action on Tuesday night for a rematch with the Sabres.