BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -Thanks to Sean Avery, the New York Rangers put two things behind them: Their last game, and the Buffalo Sabres in the tightly contested Eastern Conference playoff race.
Avery scored the go-ahead goal with 5:05 left, capitalizing on Ales Kotalik's dreadful giveaway in his own zone, in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Saturday night. The victory came four days after the Rangers squandered a 5-0 lead in a 6-5 shootout loss to Montreal, and pushed New York two points ahead of Buffalo in the standings.
The Rangers remain tied with Boston, which defeated Tampa Bay 5-3, in sixth place. Buffalo dropped to eighth, a point ahead of the New York Islanders and Philadelphia.
"In our minds, that game was over," Brendan Shanahan said, referring to the loss at Montreal. "But in order for us to convince maybe the rest of the hockey world, we had to win tonight's game. If we didn't win, somehow they'd attribute it to our last game."
The Rangers improved to 3-0 against the Sabres this season and are suddenly on a roll, at 9-3-2 in their past 14 games.
"There's no point to look at the standings. It'll change every night" said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 26 saves. "The only thing we can do is focus on our job and win as many games as possible. ... But it always feels good to win games like this."
Avery and Brandon Dubinsky had a goal and assist each, while Jaromir Jagr and Nigel Dawes also scored for the Rangers.
Kotalik scored twice for the Sabres, but it was his miscue that proved costly as the Sabres dropped to 10-3-2 in their past 15 games.
|Sean Avery celebrates with his Rangers teammates after scoring the game-winning goal in the third period. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Getting the puck along the side boards, Kotalik inexplicably backhanded a blind pass into the middle that hit Shanahan in the high slot. Shanahan fanned on his shot, but the puck dribbled to the bottom of the left circle, where Avery flipped it into the open side after goalie Ryan Miller committed to stopping Shanahan.
"This one really hurts," Kotalik said, shaking his head in frustration. "It was a bad read on my part. ... It's those moments when you hate hockey, but you have to learn from it. You have to bounce back."
Jason Pominville also scored for the Sabres in a game in which both teams squandered one-goal leads. After the Sabres scored twice to build a 3-2 lead, Dubinsky capped a mad scramble in front to tie it at 3 midway through the second period.
"We gave up two points against a team right next to us in the standings. It's unacceptable," Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said.
Avery's goal came three minutes after Lundqvist made a tremendous save, foiling Thomas Vanek on a wide-open breakaway to keep the game tied.
"That was a big stop for us, no question," coach Tom Renney said. "It could certainly have been the difference in this game. He was large for us."
Jagr was impressed by how the Sabres continued playing their wide-open style, noting how Vanek freely sneaked in behind the Rangers' defense.
"You cycle them down low in the offensive zone for 30 seconds and all of a sudden you see Vanek on the blue line," Jagr said. "How many teams are going to do it? If we do it on our team, you're not playing the next game. Here he's got a breakaway."
Laughing, Jagr added: "I would love to play for Buffalo."
Chris Drury had an assist on Dawes' goal, after receiving a cool reception in his first game in Buffalo since the Sabres' former co-captain signed with the Rangers in July. A loud "Boo!" went up when Drury was announced as a starter, and he was booed each time he touched the puck.
"I was just focused on the game. I didn't notice much," Drury said of his reception. "I'm thrilled with the win."
Notes: Rangers D Paul Mara did not return after sustaining a head injury 3 minutes into the game. Mara was leveled by Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta in the Rangers' zone by a clean check. The Sabres, in the third period, showed Kaleta's hit on their video scoreboard as part of their "Hit of the Game" promotion, drawing cheers from the crowd. ... Vanek had an assist, extending his point streak to five games, in which he has six goals and three assists. ... One young fan, who arrived early, carried a sign that read: "Who Needs Drury?"