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Sabres-Rangers Preview

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Sabres-Rangers Preview

GAME: Buffalo Sabres (29-15-3) at New York Rangers (28-14-7).

TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST.

Three months ago, New York Rangers' rookie goaltender Henrik Lundqvist lost his first game in regulation to the Buffalo Sabres.

He will likely get the chance to avenge that loss and help the Rangers try to win their fourth straight game when they meet the Sabres at Madison Square Garden.

The 23-year-old netminder made 31 saves in Sunday's 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils, recording his 20th win of the season. He is the first Ranger rookie goaltentder to win 20 games since Mike Richter won 21 games in 1990-91.

Lundqvist also backstopped the Rangers' penalty-killing unit that thwarted all six extra-man advantages, including a five-minute major penalty after Darius Kasparaitis elbowed New Jersey's Grant Marshall in the head.

"This is probably one of the best teams right now on the power play," said Lundqvist of the Devils. "We really had to stay focused and that was the key to win."

The Swedish Olympian has allowed a total of five goals in three straight wins, which helped him earn the NHL's defensive player of the week honors Monday. Lundqvist began the season 3-0-2 before losing 3-1 on Oct. 22 in Buffalo, but he will try to even the series at home where he is an impressive 13-2-2 with a 1.57 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and two shutouts.

Fellow rookie Petr Prucha tallied a power-play goal and Dominic Moore and Michael Nylander also scored in Sunday's win while Martin Rucinsky added two assists for the Rangers, who snapped the Devils' nine-game winning streak.

Nylander has two goals and three assists in a three-game points streak.

The Atlantic Division win was big for the Rangers, who sit in second place and are trying to make up ground on first place-Philadelphia.

"We talked about it as being a playoff-like game for us," said Rangers coach Tom Renney, whose team has won six of its last eight.

While the Rangers are enjoying a winning streak, the Sabres have suffered back-to-back losses, including a 4-1 defeat Saturday to the Calgary Flames. Buffalo was 0-for-5 on the power play and gave up two extra-man goals and a short-hander to the Flames.

"We weren't up to the task on the special teams," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, whose team will be making the fourth stop on a season-high six-game road trip. "Their special teams were a little bit better than ours."

Maxim Afinogenov scored the only goal for the Sabres, who also lost 4-1 to Vancouver on Thursday. Martin Biron made 33 saves against the Flames in his first start since Jan. 12.

The Sabres have beaten the Rangers in their last two trips to New York City.

STANDINGS: Sabres - 61 points, 2nd place, 9 PB, Northeast Division. Rangers - 63 points, 2nd place, 5 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Ales Kotalik, 18 goals; Tim Connolly, 29 assists; Chris Drury and Connolly, 38 points; Andrew Peters, 53 PIM. Rangers - Jaromir Jagr, 29 goals, 42 assists and 71 points; Kasparaitis, 67 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Sabres - Power play: 21.6 percent (61 for 282), 2nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.7 percent (216 for 252), 2nd. Rangers - Power play: 15.8 percent (43 for 273), 21st. Penalty killing: 84.7 percent (255 for 301), 8th.

GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Biron (15-6-3, 2.98 GAA); Ryan Miller (13-7-0, 2.24). Rangers - Lundqvist (20-6-5, 2 SO, 2.14); Kevin Weekes (8-8-2, 3.11).

SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 22; Rangers, 3-2 (SO). At Buffalo, N.Y., Jaromir Jagr and Nylander each had a goal and an assist and scored in the shootout, along with Martin Straka, to lead the Rangers to victory.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sabres - 14-8-1 on the road; Rangers - 15-5-4 at home.


Associated Press
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