Last 10: Buffalo 6-4-0; New York 3-6-1
Season series: The Sabres and Rangers meet for the second consecutive Saturday night. New York won the first of four meetings this season with a 2-1 win at HSBC Arena last weekend. Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant, shutting out Buffalo until a Jason Pominville goal with 58.1 seconds remaining. Christopher Higgins and Ryan Callahan scored for the Rangers.
Big story: That win has been the only bright spot for New York in its last half-dozen games, as the Rangers have dropped to 10th in the Eastern Conference. The schedule doesn’t get any easier, as Buffalo is in a back-and-forth battle with Boston for the top spot in the Northeast Division.
"They're going to be gunning for us, too," Rangers forward Brian Boyle said. "They played a pretty good game against us (last Saturday) and probably want to get back at us for beating them. But we need this win to start building some momentum going forward."
Sabres: It was Buffalo's turn to recapture first place in the division as the Sabres completed a five-game homestand Friday with their third win, 2-1 over Chicago. Not only did they edge an elite Western Conference opponent, they accomplished it without the services of All-Star goaltender Ryan Miller, who got the night off. Veteran backup Patrick Lalime made 39 saves to pick up his first victory of the season.
"The goaltenders are a big part of our success this year so far, and Pat was the difference tonight, for sure," captain Craig Rivet said. "We've got huge smiles on our faces for him. He's a well-liked guy in our dressing room, and he comes to the rink everyday and works his tail off. We're so happy for him to get this big win."
Rangers: Since defeating Buffalo a week ago, New York lost the second of a back-to-back on Sunday against Detroit and saw a one-goal lead in the third period disappear in a 2-1 overtime loss to Chicago on Wednesday. Lundqvist did everything he could to make an early goal by Higgins stand up, but his season-high 39 saves still weren't enough for a victory.
"We were so close to getting those two points," Lundqvist said. "Somehow right now we're having a tough time to find ways to win games like this."
Who's hot: Miller is coming off a 35-save shutout as the Sabres beat the Capitals 3-0 on Wednesday and has allowed two goals or less in eight of his last nine starts.
Higgins has two goals in his last three for the Rangers, doubling his output from his first 26 games. Lundqvist has allowed just five goals in his last three starts but has only a 1-1-1 record to show for it.
Injury report: Buffalo forward Mike Grier missed Friday's game for personal reasons and defenseman Chris Butler was scratched due to an ankle injury. Forward Paul Gaustad (knee) is on injured reserve.
Brandon Dubinsky, out for New York since breaking his left hand Nov. 7 against Calgary, practiced fully on Friday.
"I'm at the point now where it's just a matter of me and the pain," Dubinsky said. "If I can play with it and it feels OK then I'll go as hard as I can. If it hurts, I'll have to back off a little."
Stat pack: Scoring goals has been a bugaboo for the Rangers all season – at least for anyone not named Marian Gaborik – but playing the Sabres at Madison Square Garden could be the elixir if recent history holds. The Blueshirts are 4-1-2 in their last seven against Buffalo at MSG with 22 goals, an average of better than three per game.
Puck drop: Losing has never sat well with John Tortorella and a perceived lack of effort is even worse. The Rangers coach ripped into his team after the loss to Chicago.
"My concern tonight is just a level of competing, which was horrid as far as I'm concerned. It was unacceptable. … If guys thought they were trying tonight, they're in for a rude awakening," Tortorella said.