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Skapski wins debut for Rangers against Sabres

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- Mackenzie Skapski made his first NHL game a memorable one.

The New York Rangers goalie made 24 saves in a 3-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Friday.

Skapski allowed a goal on the first shot of the game, at 14 seconds, by Sabres forward Matt Moulson. Moulson was alone in front of the net when he received a pass from Torrey Mitchell to score his ninth goal of the season.

"Yeah, it's not the start I wanted, that's for sure," Skapski said. "I think I rebounded well from that, and I think I was fighting some pucks in the first period, and in the second and third I was pretty calm, cool and collected."

Skapski (20 years, 250 days old) is the third-youngest Rangers goalie to win his NHL debut, according to Elias Sports Bureau. John Vanbiesbrouck (18 years, 92 days) and Lorne Anderson (20 years, 237 days) were younger.

Skapski is the first Rangers goalie to win his NHL debut since Dan Cloutier on Jan. 3, 1998.

"I'm very happy for him," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "You always want to remember your first NHL game. He's going to remember it. He's going to remember the first shot and the first goal, but after that he shut them down and that's the important thing."

Skapski made 11 saves through two periods, but in the third the Sabres had two power plays and outshot the Rangers 13-12.

"He just let his play do the talking," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "He was real relaxed out there. Obviously at the start of the game, giving up a goal first shot is not ideal in that it could go either way for him. It could make him real nervous and antsy, but I thought he stayed with his strengths and just stayed relaxed and calm in there.

"I'm pretty sure he had a smile on his face all the way through the game. He made some big saves for us on the penalty kill as the game went and really did his part for us to get a big two points."

Skapski had been the backup to Cam Talbot since Henrik Lundqvist was sidelined with a vascular injury Feb. 2. Skapski was the 170th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft.

"I don't know if we let him off the hook. We just couldn't get in," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "Letting him off the hook is if you have a chance to do it. We didn't have a chance to do it. We couldn't generate. We couldn't get in. Certain nights the other team is going to be a little bit more highly skilled than us. But … we didn't quit. We battled back a little bit in the third. We just didn't have enough."

The Rangers (35-16-6) have a point in seven straight games and have won five of the past six. The Sabres (17-38-4) have lost 10 of their past 11 home games.

Rick Nash's 37th goal of the season gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead 37 seconds into the second period. He received a pass across the zone from Derick Brassard and took a slap shot that beat Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth. Brassard's assist extended his point streak to six games.

"Yeah, that was a great pass," Nash said. "It was coming in hard. It was heavy and I was just trying to get it on net."

Carl Hagelin made it 1-1 with a breakaway goal 5:51 into the first period. Hagelin picked up a loose puck after a J.T. Miller pass was deflected by Sabres forward Brian Gionta. Hagelin broke in alone against Neuvirth and shot the puck through the goalie's legs for his 14th goal of the season.

"Yeah, it's a tough bounce," Gionta said. "Obviously, unfortunately it goes off my stick and gets by [Ristolainen] there. Borderline offside, too, I think at the time. But regardless, we've got to stick with it and find a way to come out of that. It's not an excuse for sure."

Mats Zuccarello made it 3-1 with his 12th goal of the season 8:05 into the second. Nash got behind Sabres defenseman Andre Benoit and drew Neuvirth out of position. The shot went off the near post and in front of the net to Zuccarello.

"I was a little lucky," Nash said. "I was trying to shoot it. It hit that perfect area where it bounced back in front. So it was a good bounce."

Neuvirth made 40 saves; he has 138 saves on 146 shots in his past four starts.

Sabres defenseman Mike Weber left the game after the first period with an upper-body injury and did not return. Defenseman Josh Gorges missed his fourth game with a lower-body injury.

"He took a pretty good hit," Nolan said. "He's getting evaluated now, as Josh Gorges is. So we'll say, we can lose a couple there for sure."

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