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Boyes helps Sabres inch closer to playoff spot

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- Even when the puck got behind Ryan Miller, he still found a way to make a save.

Clinging to a one-goal lead late in the third period, the Rangers' Mats Zuccarello slapped a shot that squeezed through Miller's pads. The Sabres' goaltender didn't lose his cool, however, as he swiped the puck out of the crease with his catching glove despite not seeing the puck.

Miller made a few more glorious saves in the final minute, including another on Zuccarello, preserving Buffalo's 3-2 victory against New York at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

The win allowed the ninth-place Sabres to keep pace with the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes, who maintained their two-point lead by winning Tuesday. However, the Sabres are now just three points behind the seventh-place Rangers with three games in hand.

The Sabres are 3-0-1 in their last four games, with the overtime loss coming after they let a one-goal lead slip away late against the Red Wings. Facing the same situation against the Rangers, Buffalo found a way to bear down and get two crucial points.

"The Detroit game, we thought we established a good game and gave a point away," said Miller, who made 29 saves Tuesday. "Tonight, we held on tough. It was important not to give them anything tonight. We definitely didn't want them getting back into the game."

Defenseman Tyler Myers got the Sabres on the board with a power-play goal at 17:15 of the first period. His long shot eluded Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist thanks largely to a screen from Thomas Vanek, who didn't register a point but wreaked havoc in front of the Rangers' net on two goals.

Brad Boyes, acquired Saturday by the Sabres in a trade with the St. Louis Blues, scored in his first game with his new team. Boyes, Tyler Ennis and Tim Connolly generated numerous scoring chances and finished with six shots.

Boyes' power-play goal in the second period gave the Sabres a 2-0 lead and was the result of a gorgeous, no-look, between-the skates pass across the top of the crease by center Paul Gaustad that found Boyes at the doorstep. It was the type of chemistry that takes months to develop, yet they found it in less than a game.

It helps when the players discuss the play before it happens.

"It was a great pass by Gaustad," Boyes said. "We had talked earlier that if something like that happens, he might do that so I kind of was looking for it. It was a lot easier on my part."

Boyes paid immediate dividends for the Sabres, who were 2-for-3 with the man advantage and were hoping to get a boost to their 10th-ranked power play with his addition.

"I thought overall, he had good compete and played well," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said of Boyes. "I was a little worried with all the travel he'd be doing he wouldn't have as much as I thought. But he fared better than I anticipated."

The Rangers fought back from the 2-0 hole by getting a goal 45 seconds later from Erik Christensen, who fired a shot through a Ryan Callahan screen that caught Miller looking the wrong way around Callahan. After a first period that saw the sluggish Rangers muster a mere 5 shots, they held a 16-11 advantage in that category in the second period.

The third period was much of the same, but a splendid read by defenseman Andrej Sekera led to Sabres netting the game-winning goal.

Sekera corralled a dangerous pass by Sabres defenseman Steve Montador at the blue line that may have sprung Vinny Prospal on a breakaway. Sekera then fired a slap pass toward the crease that was redirected past a helpless Lundqvist, who was totally screened on the play by Vanek.

"It was a close call on the D-to-D pass by Monty," Hecht said. "He made a nice move to take it wide, fake the shot, and all I had to do was put my stick on the ice and deflect it in. It was an important goal for us. He said he wanted to go short-side and high and saw Lundqvist coming out pretty far and he decided to shoot it wide and I was right there."

While the Sabres are rolling with a showdown with the Hurricanes in Carolina looming Thursday, the Rangers are heading in the opposite direction: they are 4-7-0 in their last 11 games.

The Rangers fought back to make it a one-goal game with nearly 14 minutes left in the third period when Artem Ansimov beat a fallen Miller with a high shot, but they couldn't get the tying goal.

"We got better as the game went on to just chip pucks and go get them rather than make passes," Christensen said. "They are pretty good in the neutral zone. We didn't play bad, but somehow it's not good enough right now."

"We hit posts, knobs of sticks -- hopefully some of those will go in and we will gain some confidence as far as finishing," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We just couldn't solve Miller to tie the game up."

For the Sabres, who haven't been in the top 8 in the Eastern Conference standings since they were 1-1-0, they're taking the tried-and-true approach of one game at a time in their pursuit of a playoff spot.

But with a win Thursday, they'll find themselves in postseason position for the first time since early October.

"Just keep grinding," said Miller, when asked about this seven-game road swing that's now just one game old. "We've had one other big trip and most teams have two, so you just have to get through it and you have to get your points."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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