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Lundqvist, Vesey Lead Rangers to Win Over Sabres

by Michael Obernauer /

A month ago, the Rangers played one of their best games of the season in Buffalo, only to go away emptyhanded when Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton stole the two points.

Consider Sunday night the Rangers' payback.

Henrik Lundqvist stopped 39 of 40 shots in a 3-1 victory over the Sabres at Madison Square Garden. The win gave the Rangers their first three-game winning streak of 2018-19 and was a case of the Rangers turning the tables on their Oct. 6 defeat in Buffalo, in which Hutton stopped 43 of 44 Ranger shots.

"Yes we did," David Quinn agreed. "Hank was outstanding tonight."

Jimmy Vesey scored two of the Rangers' goals, his second multi-goal game of the season, and Neal Pionk picked up his first of the season in support of Lundqvist, who won his second straight start while Hutton (19 saves) lost for the first time in his career against the Rangers (4-1-0).

Video: BUF@NYR: Pionk, Vesey strike twice in 19 seconds

Brett Howden set up Vesey's first goal, early in the second, but then left the game later in the period after a scary collision into the backboards. Quinn characterized it as an upper-body issue and said that the team held Howden out for precautionary reasons, adding, "We'll see how he feels tomorrow."

Conor Sheary brought Buffalo within a goal with 13:53 left to play, but the Rangers, after allowing a last-minute goal in each of their last three games, were able to see the game through, with help from Vesey's second of the game into an empty net at 18:09.

But it was Lundqvist who did the most heavy lifting in this one behind a Rangers team that Quinn admitted was still feeling the effects of a nine-day road trip that went through Chicago and three California cities. Though he said he liked the energy his players showed in Saturday's practice, Quinn explained after Sunday's game that was "because I set the bar so low, I wasn't expecting much."

Video: BUF@NYR: Lundqvist makes save, dives to keep puck out

"Obviously we didn't have a lot of life," the coach said of Sunday's game. "You look at the schedule, you probably circle this game as one where, 'Uh oh, that might be a red flag.' But I'm proud of the way we managed to find a way to get it done"

The Sabres, who had played in Buffalo on Saturday afternoon, outshot the Rangers 15-5 in the first period, and had 25 shot attempts to the Rangers' nine over the opening 20 minutes.

But Lundqvist held the Rangers in it - never more so than over the stretch of 15 minutes spanning the first and second periods when the Rangers went shorthanded four times. Buffalo's power play put 14 pucks on Lundqvist's net, and the goaltender turned away every one.

"I think the guys made the difference there, the biggest difference - the PK stepped up," said Lundqvist, who was the Rangers' best penalty killer on the night. "You could feel it right away, they move the puck so well side to side and create chances, so we had to be on our toes. I think with each kill we got more and more confident.

Video: BUF@NYR: Lundqvist loses stick, makes great save

"Sometimes the game is not very logical. We didn't play that great the first 30 minutes or so but we were up 2-0 in the second."

That's because in the opening minute of the second, Pionk and Vesey scored 19 seconds apart. First Pionk, a righthanded shot, snuck in on the left side to receive Vlad Namestnikov's pass and beat Hutton up high - Pionk's second career goal, both of which have come at the Garden against the Sabres. Vesey then took Howden's handoff and stepped into one from the right circle.

"Coach Quinn's been talking about, when you get the puck, don't stickhandle," Vesey said. "I tried to get it off quick."

Howden's assist gave the rookie points in four of his last five games, but his night ended in scary fashion with 6:34 to play in the second. Having gone full-speed to the net and just missed converting Vesey's feed on a 2-on-1, Howden's was sandwiched awkwardly between the backboards and the backsliding Vladimir Sobotka.

Lundqvist, too, was involved in a collision late in the second, when Buffalo blueliner Rasmus Dahlin clipped him as he tried circling the net. "It was not a great feeling," Lundqvist said. "Luckily we played our best in the third so I didn't have to work that hard."

Lundqvist made 15 saves in the first, 15 in the second and nine in the third. His only blemish was when he couldn't poke an errant clear past Sheary in the slot, and Sheary was able to tap home his second attempt.

"I was curious to see how we were going to respond. Sometimes you're going to have bad bounces but at some point you have to learn from your mistakes. I thought we played a really strong third period, the way we forechecked them, they didn't create much in the third. Even after the goal we responded well.

"It shows that we're moving in the right direction - I'm really happy with that part. Obviously the win is important, but also the way we show the learning process here."

"I thought our intentions were a lot better in the third than in the first two," Quinn said. "We were much more purposeful in the third."

After winning their first two road games of the season in California, the Rangers now have a winning record on home ice. Sunday night began a stretch in which the Rangers play eight out of 12 games at the Garden, continuing on Tuesday night with a visit from the Montreal Canadiens.

They'll have time to recharge the batteries between now and then, but regardless, Lundqvist isn't apologizing for this one.

"I think we earned this type of game by now after playing a lot of good games and not getting the points," he said.

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