NEW YORK -- This time, the New York Rangers sent their fans home happy.
Three nights after being blanked 2-0 by the Montreal Canadiens in their home opener at the newly remodeled Madison Square Garden, New York got 29 saves by Henrik Lundqvist and goals from Derick Brassard and Chris Kreider in a 2-0 victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
The Rangers have won three of their past four games to improve to 5-7-0 after a 2-6-0 start, and they've won back-to-back games for the first time this season, New York fired 46 shots at Ryan Miller and controlled play for most of the night to earn its first regulation victory against the Sabres since Dec. 10, 2011.
"This was definitely a game we wanted to win, we needed to win," Lundqvist said. "We did so many good things. I thought we were all over them pretty much the whole game. We deserve this one, for sure."
Despite Miller's heroics, the Sabres fell to 2-12-1; they've lost three in a row and six of seven.
"Ryan made some extraordinary saves," said forward Matt Moulson, who played his second game with the Sabres after being acquired from the New York Islanders on Sunday. "He really kept us in the game. It could have been more than 2-0."
Buffalo came out strong, taking the game's first three shots, but the Rangers settled down behind the line of Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello and Kreider. Zuccarello had New York's first quality scoring chance on the team's first shot 3:14 into the first period. He raced down right wing and went behind the Buffalo net before turning to his backhand for a wraparound attempt that was denied by Miller's outstretched right leg.
The Rangers seized total control from that point, taking the next 14 shots and outshooting Buffalo 19-3 through the remainder of the period. That strong play was keyed in large part by the Zuccarello line, which accounted for 18 of New York's 46 shots.
"Kreider is a big body, fast, strong. Stepan is one of the smartest players there is. He reads the game really well. I fly around a little bit and win a puck now and then," Zuccarello said of the line. "It's going well now but we have to stay humble. It's just hard work that makes us successful right now."
Zuccarello's line set the stage for New York to open the scoring after Kreider was hauled down by Tyler Myer in front of the Buffalo net 7:25 into the game. With J.T. Miller providing a screen just outside the crease, Brassard's high, rising point shot beat Ryan Miller to the top right corner at 8:23 for his second goal of the season.
It was the Rangers' third power-play goal in five attempts after a 1-for-15 slump.
The Rangers continued to buzz Miller's net, and a rush by Brad Richards near the nine-minute mark of the second period opened up space for Ryan McDonagh, who wired a snap shot from the slot that was swallowed up by Miller. The Rangers had a 27-10 advantage in shots at that point, with only Miller's goaltending keeping the game from getting out of hand.
"I understand we've got younger guys, but you have to have a certain control of the game where you have to play together and work hard for each other and get out of situations," said a frustrated Miller, who is 1-10-0 despite a .919 save percentage. "It's up to us to dig out of this and have the right attitude and right approach. It's been a lot of games searching, trying to figure it out. Enough is enough."
Kreider made it 2-0 11:21 into the second when he scored his second goal in two games by knocking the puck off a sprawling Miller and into the net from a severe angle. Kreider began the play off a rush in which he fed the puck to Zuccarello in the slot. Miller stopped Zuccarello's shot, but the rebound went directly to Kreider near the left corner, where he wired a quick shot from behind the goal line before getting a favorable bounce.
"I think that's a play I've tried a lot. I don't know if it has ever worked for me," Kreider said. "You throw it back out in front because you don't have any other option. It was a whole lot of luck, but just a great job of execution by the other guys on the ice."
Buffalo finally tested Lundqvist late in the second period. With 4:20 remaining, Brian Flynn beat John Moore down the wing before firing a shot from in close, but Lundqvist stacked his right pad along the ice to stone Flynn and deny his jam at the rebound. The Sabres' best chance to halve the lead came when Steve Ott fed a streaking Drew Stafford right in front of Lundqvist with less than a minute remaining in the second. Lundqvist stood his ground and managed to stay sharp despite not being tested for large stretches of the game.
"I know I still have some work to do there and this was definitely a good game for me," Lundqvist said. "We played so well. It was easy for me to ease into the game. As the game moved on, I got tested a little bit more."
Outshot 38-18 through two periods, Buffalo managed 11 shots but few scoring chances in the third. After coach Ron Rolston pulled Miller, Marcus Foligno forced Lundqvist to make a quality glove save on his quick shot from the slot with 80 seconds remaining. Lundqvist also kicked out Moulson's deflection of a Christian Ehrhoff feed from in close.
After opening with nine consecutive road games while the remodeling of the Garden was completed, the Rangers are in the early part of a stretch in which they play nine of 12 games at home. They appear to have moved past their difficult season-opening road trip.
"We've gone through a challenge of that tough stretch," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Every day and every game we're focused on that game and practice. We're trying to get better individually and we're trying to get better as a team."
Michael Del Zotto
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Michael Del Zotto