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Messier Scores in Possible MSG Finale

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers


NEW YORK, N.Y. (AP) -- Mark Messier scored a goal and then was given a hero's salute Wednesday night in what could have been his last game at Madison Square Garden.

Messier's 694th NHL goal in his 1,756th game wasn't enough as the Rangers fell 4-3 to the Buffalo Sabres, who stayed alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The New York captain tied it at 1-1 when he scored his 18th of the season with 57 seconds left in the first period.

When the game ended, both teams stayed on the ice to tap their sticks and applaud the future Hall of Famer. Messier skated around, waving to the adoring crowd while wiping back tears from his face.

"I guess the great part about it is being able to share it with not only your teammates, but the fans," Messier said after the game. "The fans have been nothing but tremendously loyal. That's one of the great things about playing sports, is being able to share it with a lot of people."

Messier is completing his 25th NHL season, in which he won six Stanley Cups - including the 1994 title that gave the Rangers their first championship in 54 years. He usually waits until late in the summer to decide whether to continue his career, and said he still plans to do the same this year.

"If I did think in my mind it was it, then I would have set a lot more plans and preparations a month ago," he added. "I just didn't know completely in my heart that that was the case and didn't want to put myself in a situation if I did that come September perhaps would want to play again."

Messier was chosen as the game's first star with his family in the stands and former teammate Mike Richter in the locker room. When Messier took off his sweater, he offered his current teammates some words of encouragement. "Good luck with your careers," he said.

Messier played after missing four games, two because of a suspension following a spearing penalty, and the previous two because of an elbow contusion. It is not known whether the 43-year-old center will play Saturday at Washington when the Rangers conclude their 2003-04 season.

The Sabres are still holding out hope they can reach the post-season. They trail the New York Islanders by three points with only two games to play.

Jochen Hecht scored a pair of goals 21 seconds apart in the second period to break open a tie game and assisted on two other goals to lead the Sabres.

Buffalo took a 1-0 lead 3:59 into the game on Daniel Briere's 27th goal. Briere found a seam in the defense, took a pass from Hecht from behind the net and beat Mike Dunham with a quick wrist shot.

Messier tied it when he parked himself to the left of the net, took a cross-ice pass from Josef Balej and chipped the puck over the diving Martin Biron.

Hecht made it 2-1 at 3:27 of the second period when he skated in on Dunham and collided with the goaltender. He then poked a shot in as he fell to the ice. Hecht scored again at 3:48 after Karel Rachunek turned the puck over in the Rangers' zone.

Thomas Pock pulled the Rangers within 3-2 with his second NHL goal at 11:00 of the second.

Buffalo went ahead 4-2 on Dmitri Kalinin's 10th at 2:56 of the third period.

Josh Green made it 4-3 at 9:12 with a nifty backhanded conversion of a rebound from right in front.

New York's Jaromir Jagr left in the second period with a strained hip.
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