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Buffalo Sabres 4, New York Rangers 3 FINAL @NHLdotcom

NEW YORK (AP) _ Mark Messier scored a goal and then was given a hero's salute Wednesday night in what could have been his last home game with the New York Rangers.

Messier admitted after the game that he was leaning toward retirement although he insisted he still hadn't completely made up his mind.

``I guess there's no blueprint for something like this,'' Messier said. ``I didn't know what to expect myself. It would have been a lot simpler, a lot easier if I had come out a month ago and announced (my retirement). It would have been a lot less stress. Any time you make a decision of this importance it should be made with a clear mind.''

Messier's 694th NHL goal in his 1,756 game wasn't enough as the Rangers lost 4-3 to the Buffalo Sabres, who stayed alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

``We knew they were going to come out hard to play for Mark,'' goaltender Martin Biron said. ``The win is a big plus for us right now. We're not going to beat ourselves. Yes, we need help, but we need to win our games.''

Messier, the New York captain, tied it at 1 when he scored his 18th of the season with 57 seconds left in the first period.

``To play against him in maybe his last NHL game, it might have been his last goal,'' Buffalo center Daniel Briere said. ``It's pretty sweet to be there.''

When the game ended, both teams stayed on the ice to tap their sticks and applaud the likely future Hall of Famer. Messier skated around, waving to the adoring crowd while wiping tears away from his face.

``I guess the great part about it is being able to share it with not only your teammates but the fans,'' Messier said. ``The fans have been nothing but tremendously loyal. That's one of the great things about playing sports, is being able to share it with a lot of people.''

Messier is completing his 25th NHL season, in which he won six Stanley Cups _ including the 1994 title that gave the Rangers their first championship in 54 years. He usually waits until late in the summer to decide whether to continue his career, and said he still plans to do the same this year.

``If I did think in my mind it was it, then I would have set a lot more plans and preparations a month ago,'' he said. ``I just didn't know completely in my heart that that was the case and didn't want to put myself in a situation if I did that come September perhaps would want to play again.''

Messier was chosen as the game's first star with his family in the stands and former teammate Mike Richter in the locker room. When Messier took off his sweater, the only message he had for his current teammates was ``good luck with your careers.''

Messier played after missing four games, two because of a suspension following a spearing penalty, and the previous two because of a bruised elbow. It was not immediately known whether the 43-year-old center would play Saturday at Washington when the Rangers complete their seventh straight non-playoff season.

``I didn't feel great out there,'' he admitted. ``I hadn't skated much in the last seven or eight games. I just wanted to try to play hard.''

The Sabres are still holding out hope they can reach the postseason. They trail the New York Islanders by three points with only two games to play.

``We're not completely out of it,'' Briere said. ``We're going to need help now.''

Jochen Hecht scored a pair of goals 21 seconds apart to break open a tie game and assisted on two other goals to lead the Sabres.

Buffalo took a 1-0 lead 3:59 in on Briere's 27th goal. Briere found a seam in the defense, took a pass from Hecht from behind the net and beat Mike Dunham with a quick wrist shot.

Messier tied it when he parked himself to the left of the net, took a cross-ice pass from Josef Balej and chipped the puck over the diving Martin Biron.

Hecht made it 2-1 at 3:27 of the second period when he skated in on Dunham and collided with the goaltender. He then poked a shot in as he fell to the ice. Hecht scored again at 3:48 after Karel Rachunek turned the puck over in the Rangers' zone.

Thomas Pock pulled the Rangers within 3-2 with his second NHL goal at 11:00 of the second.

Buffalo went ahead 4-2 on Dmitri Kalinin's 10th at 2:56 of the third period.

Josh Green made it 4-3 at 9:12 with a back-handed conversion of a rebound from right in front.

New York's Jaromir Jagr left in the second period with a strained hip.

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