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game recap

Zuccarello, Rangers defeat Sabres

Forward's goal, two assists help New York past Buffalo

by Joe Yerdon / Correspondent

BUFFALO -- The New York Rangers haven't lost back-to-back games since December and backup goalie Antti Raanta made sure that stayed true on Tuesday.

Mats Zuccarello had a goal and two assists, and Raanta made 34 saves to lead the Rangers to a 4-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center.

Video: NYR@BUF: Zuccarello nets a goal from sharp angle

The Rangers got out to a 3-0 lead in the second period before the Sabres scored twice late in the second and attempted to rally in the third. Raanta made 19 third-period saves to preserve the victory.

"We got good goaltending, we got saves at the right time and, at the end, our penalty killing was able to kill off two of their power plays so if we want to stress the positives I think that was pretty positive," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Our second period was all right. It's two points and we'll move on to the next game."

Raanta made his third straight start replacing Henrik Lundqvist, who is out with neck spasms.

Video: NYR@BUF: Zuccarello feeds Brassard for PPG

"[Raanta] works extremely hard," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "A goaltending backup role is something that's got to be tough to handle with mentally, never knowing when your next start might be when your starter's healthy. But obviously, he knew he was going to have to be relied upon here for a good stretch. 

"We didn't give him much help against the Islanders the other night, so it's good to see him really respond well for us and give us some confidence coming out of that first period with a goal lead."

New York (39-22-6) lost back-to-back games to the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 18 and Washington Capitals on Dec. 20. The Rangers were coming off a 6-4 loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday.

Video: NYR@BUF: Fast hammers in a one-timer through traffic

Zuccarello set up Derick Brassard 7:30 into the game and scored 4:38 into the second to help the Rangers to a 2-0 lead.

Brassard's 24th goal of the season came on the power play when Zuccarello's pass split Sabres defenders in the neutral zone and sent him on a short breakaway. Brassard took a wrist shot that beat Sabres goalie Robin Lehner over the shoulder. 

"It was kind of… He was too open; it was too good to be true right there so I kind of hesitated a little bit," Zuccarello said. "[Brassard] made a good play there. I just passed it there and he makes it. It was a good goal by him."

Zuccarello's 22nd goal of the season came on a give-and-go opportunity with Derek Stepan. Zuccarello received a pass from Stepan and took a quick shot that beat Lehner to the short side. 

Video: NYR@BUF: Larsson cuts the Sabres' deficit in half

"It was a panic shot," Zuccarello said. "I took it and it went in; I'll take it."

The Rangers made it 3-0 when Jesper Fast received a pass from Brassard and took a one-timer slap shot through a Chris Kreider screen that beat Lehner low to his right for his 10th goal of the season. Lehner was then replaced by Chad Johnson. Lehner and Johnson each made 11 saves.

Zuccarello also set up J.T. Miller for an empty-net goal, his 18th of the season, with 1:00 remaining.

"When they're feeling it, they've got some confidence and offensive ability to make plays," Rangers forward Eric Staal said. "They're fun to watch. I've seen them on the other side of things and you can feel it when they're making plays. When they get their look, they're pretty good at cashing in. It's nice to be joining them along with this group. We were able to definitely capitalize tonight."

Video: NYR@BUF: Reinhart finishes Eichel's feed on the rush

Zuccarello's goal, however, was the one that hurt the Sabres.

"It's the second goal of the game, puts them up; it's not a good one," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "It's the beginning of the second period; it puts us in a hole, but I made the change really because you're looking at 3-0 and there's 12:30 to go and we needed a spark. We needed a change in our game and that's really why I pulled Robin."

Buffalo (27-32-9) cut the lead to 3-2 with goals in the second from Sam Reinhart with 9:48 left and Johan Larsson with 3:50 left. It was Reinhart's 19th goal of the season and Larsson's sixth.

The Sabres had one final chance to tie the game with 4:57 left in the third when Stepan was called for interference, but Raanta held strong along with his penalty killers. The Sabres had one shot on goal during the power play and the Rangers blocked three shots.

Video: NYR@BUF: Raanta extends leg to make skate save

"When they got that power play five minutes before the end [of the game] there was lots of pressure going on in our end," Raanta said. "But we still have to give credit to our guys blocking the shots and then if I make a save, if there was a rebound, our guys were always there."

Even though Raanta played well, Vigneault said before the game that Lundqvist and injured forward Rick Nash may be ready to play soon. McDonagh is optimistic too.

"Certainly, every team's dealing with injuries," McDonagh said. "We're no different, but yeah, we're getting close with some of the big guys like that so that is exciting. We've been able to win some games here along the way and kind of fine-tune our game as a group as far as defending the way we want to defend and playing the way we can in the offensive zone… 

"If we can get those guys back to playing up to par, it's going to really help our game all the way through, four lines and three [defense pairs]."

Video: Brassard, Zuccarello lead Rangers past Sabres

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