NEW YORK -- When goaltender Henrik Lundqvist arrived at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, he let backup Martin Biron know he was feeling under the weather.
About 40 minutes later, coach John Tortorella informed Biron that he would get the start for the New York Rangers against the Buffalo Sabres. Lundqvist stayed in the locker room half-dressed while Biron took the ice alone for pregame warm-ups. Lundqvist was available in case of emergency, but clearly not feeling well enough for warm-ups.
To hear Biron tell it, things nearly took a turn for the catastrophic about 30 minutes before game time thanks to Artem Anisimov.
"It's funny. Artie hit me right in the sternum in warm-up and it kind of choked me a little bit," Biron said after his 29-save performance in the Rangers' 3-2 overtime victory. "I was talking to Hank and I was like, 'You almost had to go in there because I almost went down.' He started laughing."
Everyone in the Rangers locker room was able to laugh after Anisimov atoned for nearly injuring Biron by scoring his second goal of the game at 1:32 of overtime. His fifth goal of the season came mere seconds after Biron held the fort by denying Buffalo's Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy on a 2-on-1 that became a 2-on-0 when Vanek stepped around Steve Eminger.
Biron stayed square with Vanek, who was forced to slide a pass to Roy at the left post. The puck squirted behind the net and the Sabres never got a shot during the sequence.
"I thought he made some huge saves. He made big saves at key times for us," Tortorella said. "We may not get it to overtime with some of the saves he made. Not just for tonight but for what we're trying to do with our goalies in the future."
Lundqvist hasn't played less than 70 games the past four seasons. Biron was signed to a two-year deal this summer in the hopes that he would lighten the workload of Lundqvist and give the Rangers the reliable backup they lacked last season.
In four games this season, Biron is 2-2-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.
"The practices now have been good," Biron said. "When you don't get in on a consistent basis, the practices become the games. When you get on the ice, it has to be a 100 percent focus. It was fun to be loose and go into the game feeling that way."
Thursday's game also marked the return of Marian Gaborik, who had missed 12 games with a shoulder injury he suffered on Oct. 15 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Without Gaborik, the Rangers went a respectable 6-6-0, but scored just 28 goals during that stretch.
Gaborik didn't register a point against the Sabres, finishing with three shots in 18:40 of ice time. But he was dangerous at times and came close to scoring on several occasions.
"I just kind of have to get my hands back," Gaborik said. "Get 'em on the same page as my legs."
Gaborik took a thundering hit behind his net from Patrick Kaleta during the first period. He skated to the bench immediately, but was back on the ice after a television timeout no worse for wear. It was a good test for the shoulder, and it passed with flying colors.
"It was good. That's what I needed," Gaborik said. "This is what the game is. You can't really mimic it in practice. It was good to get bounced around a little bit."
Despite the loss, the Sabres have accumulated five of a possible six points in their last three games. For a team that's been mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and is 0-6-1 at home, it's progress.
"The last three games have been good," Vanek said. "We're taking steps in the right direction and we definitely need to build off that and win a home game."
Ruslan Fedotenko scored his second goal of the season and first in 10 games with 5:56 remaining in the first period to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. He found a way to get his stick between the legs of Sabres forward Tim Connolly and poke the puck under goaltender Jhonas Enroth.
Biron was sharp during the first period, stopping Rob Niedermayer on a breakaway after he emerged from the penalty box. Biron continued his sharp play in the second period when he stopped a deflection from the slot by Cody McCormick and the rebound attempt by Niedermayer.
Tyler Ennis finally solved Biron with 4:27 left in the second period after Vanek did most of the work. Vanek faked out defenseman Dan Girardi and skated behind the Rangers net. He found Roy in front, but his shot was stopped by Biron.
The rebound came to rest in the crease, where Ennis was able to jam it home before Biron could cover it.
Anisimov gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead with 47.5 seconds remaining in the second period when he banged home a beautiful centering pass from behind the net by Brandon Dubinsky.
But Mike Grier took the air out of MSG by answering with a goal of his own with 2.9 seconds left in the period. Tortorella wasn't pleased with his team's play during the second.
"Our whole second period, we were brutal," Tortorella said.
After an evenly-played third period that saw both Enroth and Biron make some big saves -- and a goal by Fedotenko waved off due to the referee's intent to blow the whistle -- some hard work by Fedotenko led to the winning goal.
He won a battle in the corner to keep the puck alive, then another in front of the net after defenseman Dan Girardi's shot was blocked. Fedotenko got the puck to Anisimov, who whipped a wrister over the catching glove of Enroth to win the game.
It all came in support of Biron, who had no expectation of playing when he got to the arena on Thursday.
"When I came here today, I was walking around and I saw Henrik and he said he wasn't feeling that great," Biron said. "I didn't know what that meant. I thought there was a possibility that I would play. It was about a quarter after five, Torts walked in and told me I would be the one to start.
"At that time, I was already in game mode. That is part of the job. If you are going to go or not, you have to be ready to go at any time."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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