Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist won a duel with Ryan Miller, finishing the night with 38 saves to earn No. 1 star honors.
|Giannone, Albert, Fischler Recap Game 3 ||WMP |
|Renney on the Rangers' Winning Game Plan ||WMP |
|Jagr Discusses the Big Game 3 Win ||WMP |
|Lundqvist on Feeling Great after a Victory ||WMP |
|Shanahan on the Game-Winning Goal ||WMP |
|Girardi on Rozsival and Lundqvist ||WMP |
|Buffalo's Vanek on Losing in Two Overtimes ||WMP |
|Sabres Coach Ruff's Postgame Remarks ||WMP |
|Drury on Buffalo's Power-Play Struggles ||WMP |
Scoresheet | Stats | Faceoffs | Play-by-Play | Shift Chart
• Fans at Garden Played Big Role in Game 3
That famous Madison Square Garden mystique was alive and well on Sunday afternoon, as the Rangers turned Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals into one of the great hockey moments in the Garden's history.
For more than 95 minutes of hockey, the Rangers gave the NHL's regular-season champion the fight of their 2006-07 lives, before finally delivering the knockout punch on defenseman Michal Rozsival's goal at 16:43 of the second overtime.
The goal gave the Rangers a 2-1 victory -- their eighth straight win at home. It also cut the Sabres' series lead to 2-1 and completely changed the complexion of the best-of-7 heading into Tuesday night's Game 4 at MSG.
There is no question that it has been a magic Garden for the Rangers ever since the Feb. 27 trade deadline, when they went on a 13-3-4 run to end the regular season and qualify for these playoffs. A 3-0 postseason record has followed, and the eight straight wins are part of 11 victories over the last 12 home games. If that run of success continues on Tuesday, the series would go back to Buffalo all tied up for Game 5.
"It was huge," Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr said of the win. "I'm mad about the second one, where we lost in Buffalo (on Friday). But tonight was important, and we're back."
On a 53-foot blast from the right point, Rozsival ended the longest Rangers game in exactly 36 years. This one came within five minutes of being as long as the famous April 29, 1971 game against Chicago that made Pete Stemkowski a household name in New York.
"I was just focusing. The ice wasn't that good and I was just focusing and watching the puck the whole way because it was bouncing a little bit," Rozsival said "I was just focusing on hitting the puck and I was lucky enough that I had a lucky shot and I just tried to put it on the net. You are hoping that someone is going to tip it in. Anything can happen when you put it on the net."
Sunday also marked the first time the Blueshirts had played an overtime playoff game since 1997 and their first double-overtime game since Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey, ended on an unforgettable and oft-replayed goal by Stephane Matteau.
Whether Rozsival, who came back from a Game 1 leg injury, will be mentioned decades from now in the same breath as Stemkowski and Matteau remains to be seen, but the magnitude of his goal -- which put the Rangers back in the thick of their series against Buffalo -- can never be doubted.
Had the Rangers lost Game 3 at home, their 2007 playoff fate would have been all but sealed. Now, they have a chance to erase any damage done in their losses to Buffalo in Games 1 and 2.
The Rangers' win certainly left the Sabres shaking their heads.
"I think any time you lose in the playoffs it's a tough feeling, but I think it's a little bit worse when you go through a game like that where you battle hard and lose one," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "And it's one of those ones where the shot found a way to get through.
On the winning play, the Rangers were controlling the play in the Buffalo zone, when the puck came out to Rozsival at the right point. As Jagr moved to the slot area between the circles, drawing a Sabres defender with him, Rozsival had the perfect screen opportunity, and he quickly blasted the puck past the screen and off the left post in the net's upper half.
"Everybody was really tired, I guess," said Rozsival. "It was a big battle tonight. To tell you the truth, they block a lot of shots. This one was one of the lucky shots that got through; we got some bodies in front of the net and it got through, and I was lucky enough that it went in."
Rangers alternate captain Brendan Shanahan said he had no doubt the puck was going in after Rozsival unleashed it.
"If you take the angle of his shot and draw a line back to the bench, we all had a great view of it," Shanahan said. "There was traffic in front and the one place he could put the puck, he put it there. We were getting to our feet before the puck even went into the net because we could see it was traveling there. So it was a great shot, a great play."
The win meant so much to the Rangers not just because of the dramatic way that the game ended, but also because the Blueshirts showed they had come up with a formula for beating the NHL's Presidents' Trophy champions. And they did it on another day when the Sabres got an outstanding performance from goaltender, Ryan Miller, who had been the difference for Buffalo in the Sabres' Game 2 win on Friday night at HSBC Arena.
"I never felt like that before, when we were down 2-0," said Jagr, a two-time Stanley Cup champion. "I had a lot of good feelings about this game. The way we played in Buffalo, we just had a little bad luck. We gave them the victory. I was pretty confident. If we can keep playing the same way, we have a chance. They're a great team, no question about it. They battled back. In the third period, they tied the game. But we did it."
In addition to the headaches Miller gave them, the Blueshirts faced plenty of adversity throughout the evening, including nine Buffalo power-play opportunities compared to only five of their own. They never cracked under that pressure, however, en route to giving their fans one of the more thrilling postseason endings in Garden history.
The Rangers also dictated play for much of the overtime, refusing to let Buffalo establish the kind of offense that enabled the Sabres to take two overtime wins out of MSG in the regular season.
Sunday wasn't just the first time the Rangers had beaten Buffalo in overtime this season; it was also the first time they had left the ice with a win. The Sabres had gone 6-0 against the Blueshirts through four regular-season and two postseason games.
Home ice advantage really does work both ways, and the Rangers were brilliant in their ability to hold serve on Sunday.
Game 3 was also an epic goaltending duel between the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and Buffalo's Miller. Lundqvist, named the Game's No. 1 star, finished the day with 38 saves, while Miller had 44.
"It feels really good right now," Lundqvist said after the game. "It was a must win for us. We came out big in overtime. I think we had a lot of chances. I think we dominated the game. We deserved to win. It's a great feeling to see the puck go in. The way we played up in Buffalo the last game, was a tough one for us. We just kept working really hard tonight. It could have gone both ways, of course. But like I said, I think we deserved the win."
Shanahan agreed with his goaltender.
"We definitely deserve the win tonight," he said. "We felt we deserved to win last game, but didn't get the win. It was a tough pill to swallow; for two games in a row, to come out and play so hard, do a lot of really good things, and not get a win. I'm glad because we deserve it."
During regulation time, Lundqvist came within nine minutes of being the first goalie to shut out the Sabres since the start of the 2006-07 season. Buffalo co-captain Daniel Briere had tied the game by spoiling Lundqvist's shutout bid with only 8:59 to go in the third period.
While the second overtime was tense, with both teams having to kill off a penalty, the first extra period was full of scoring chances, including a late shot by Buffalo's Derek Roy that hit the inside of the right post and bounced out with less than a minute remaining on the OT. The red light briefly came on, prompting a video review after the overtime period had expired.
Earlier in the first overtime, the Rangers also had a great chance to nail down the win under heavy pressure in front of Miller. At 10:31 of the OT, the Blueshirts' failed to capitalize on a golden scoring opportunity when Marcel Hossa hit the post after picking up a rebound just outside the Buffalo crease.
The Rangers also thrilled the home fans by killing off a rare overtime hooking penalty against defenseman Marek Malik -- a moment in which it seemed the door had swung wide open for the Sabres.
During the Buffalo power play, the Sabres did not get a single shot through to Lundqvist, as the penalty killers in front of him blocked shots and prevented the Sabres from setting anything up in the zone.
The Blueshirts would later be forced to kill off another power play in the second overtime, when Paul Mara went off for hooking at 11:04. During that power play, the Sabres got only two shots on goal.
Less than nine minutes away from taking the game in regulation, the Rangers had found themselves headed for OT when Briere scored on a power play to tie the game at 1-1.
Despite having to work extra time, the Rangers were clearly on top of their game through three periods of regulation, outshooting Buffalo 33-28.
Briere pulled the Sabres into a 1-1 tie on his team's seventh power play opportunity with Shanahan off for cross-checking. His tying goal came on a shot from the left circle with only 47 seconds remaining in the Shanahan penalty. Briere took a pass from Tim Connolly and rifled a shot past Lundqvist from the left circle.
Not deflated by the Briere goal, the Rangers continued to keep the pressure on Miller, particularly in the final three minutes of the third period, when they outshot the Sabres 4-0. Only Miller's outstanding play, reminiscent of his Game 2 performance in Buffalo, kept the Sabres from giving up a go-ahead goal.
In addition to Lundqvist's big performance, the Rangers were getting a vintage effort on Sunday from captain Jaromir Jagr, who took charge on offense, creating major problems for the Sabres in their own zone and leading all players with 10 shots on goal.
Jagr scored the lone Rangers goal in regulation, and he wasted little time in the second period to make that happen. Taking matters into his own hand just 33 seconds into the middle period, Jagr scored shortly after a power-play that had carried over from the first period expired.
The play that led to the goal was started by Jagr himself, while the Rangers power play was still under way. He broke into the zone off a nice feed at the blueline and was stopped by Miller. The puck rebounded out to the left circle, where the Rangers maintained possession.
Jagr sent hte initial shot at Miller from the left circle, and the puck rebounded out to Martin Straka, who tried to smack it in. Straka's shot from just outside the crease caught a piece of Miller's pads, but the puck trickled through them right onto the doorstep of the goal line. Jagr alertly swooped in and put the puck into the net, much like he had done in scoring a memorable regular-season goal against the Islanders' Rick DiPietro in a Dec. 19 game at MSG.
"I went to battle on the boards, and I had a chance to go to the net," said Jagr. "I was shooting, and nobody got the rebound. The puck was laying there."
Through two periods, the Rangers were in the driver's seat despite Buffalo's having enjoyed a wide 5-2 advantage in power play opportunities and despite the fact that Miller was once again playing at a higher level.
The Rangers were playing the kind of game needed to defeat the NHL's regular-season champion -- constantly disrupting the Sabres in the defensive zone and keeping the slot well-guarded. It was exactly the sort of defense-first style that marked the team's 17-3-4 run heading into this series, and it was magnified by the support of an exuberant crowd.
The Blueshirts did not deviate from their game plan at all on Sunday, not even once the game went to overtime.
"We knew we had to be real tight defensively, obviously, we didn't want to take to many chances but when we get our chance to go for it," said rookie winger Ryan Callahan.
Forward Blair Betts said head coach Tom Renney and his assistants never let up on their message to the players.
"The message was the same all game. Even before the game started. It was just puck management," said Betts. "It was important that we make good decisions with the puck, especially our defensemen ,and they did. If we had a chance to get it out, we got it out."
Three minutes after Jagr gave them a 1-0 lead in the second, the Rangers nearly broke the game open at 2-0, but what appeared to be a subsequent goal by Karel Rachunek at 3:36 was waved off by officials after a long video review. Rachunek had taken a centering pass from the left circle as he drove down the slot, but the review determined that he had kicked the puck into the net with his skate, rather than sending it in with his stick, as it had initially appeared.
"I really felt the second goal of ours, I have seen replays of it, should have absolutely been a goal," said Shanahan. "It just seemed we were not getting a lot of bounces. ... Then in overtime, they had some good chances around the net and we seemed to get a couple of bounces and Mikey's (Rozsival) shot was perfect."
Given a 1-0 lead to work with, Lundqvist was particularly sharp in the second, although the Blueshirts limited the amount of shots he saw for much of the period. Through 40 minutes, Lundqvist had 19 saves to Miller's 18, and he made his biggest save at the 6:01 mark of the second, denying Briere from down low after Briere took a pass from along the left boards.
Then, during a Buffalo power play with Jagr off for hooking at 8:50, Lundqvist gloved a laser shot from Chris Drury that had sailed through traffic after Drury uncorked it from the right point.
Buffalo kept the pressure on throughout the Jagr penalty, but the Rangers refused to break. Lundqvist made a big stop on Briere at 10:29 and the Rangers killed off the penalty. Just as time was expiring, however, Rangers defenseman Mara was called for cross-checking , putting Buffalo right back on the man-advantage at 11:01.
During the second penalty, Sean Avery tested Miller and the Rangers managed to control the momentum while killing a penalty against the Sabres' talent-laden power play units. Avery added an exclamation point when he nearly scored from the right circle just seconds after the penalty kill, forcing Miller to make a stellar glove save.
"You could tell over the first few games that they were kind of adapting to what we we're trying to do and we've got to adapt right back," said Betts, who saw a lot of work on the penalty kill. "For the most part we were trying to be aggressive, but at certain times trying to be more a little bit more passive and just take away passing lanes and shooting lanes. ... The penalty kill been great for a long time now and we're really confident out there."
The outstanding penalty killing continued into a subsequent call against Jagr -- the last of three Buffalo power-play opportunities during the middle period. The Rangers, however, did not get a chance to work on the man-advantage at all during that period or the third, going nearly 60 minutes between their second and third power-play opportunities of the game.
The Blueshirts outshot the Sabres 9-5 in the scoreless opening period and managed to apply heavy pressure Miller for stretches that left Buffalo scrambling in its own zone.
Looking for their eighth straight win at The Garden, the Rangers received a hero's welcome when they took the ice. The crowd was certainly the loudest of the season, topping even the decibel levels of the two Round 1 games during the singing of the national anthem.
"Obviously, it's an important time to play right now," said Lundqvist when asked about the opportunity to play such a big game at home. "It's a must win for us, so obviously it feels really good. I had a couple of good games back in Sweden as well. To come back here to New York, I think everybody was excited. The building is awesome, to play here. I think we got a lot of confidence to be out there. We enjoyed it as well."
Miller said he wasn't surprised that the Blueshirts played so well in Game 3.
"You have to expect that in their building with their backs up against the wall," Buffalo's goaltender said. "It's a must win for them and they ended up getting the right side of the post. Both teams hit some posts in overtime, and we had our opportunities and we didn't capitalize. (It was a) hard fought game, but we expected that from the series so we just have to take the positive; we were able to battle for essentially 97 minutes or so, and now we come back again on Tuesday."
Early on, it became clear that the Miller-Lundqvist duel was on, as Lundqvist was forced to make two big saves on Buffalo's Thomas Vanek before the game was even three minutes old. Vanek, who scored the winner in Games 1 and 2 was stopped twice in a nine-second span, beginning at the 2:27 mark. The first save was huge, as Vanek picked up the puck for a wide-open shot from the slot.
Buffalo got the game's first power-play opportunity, and the Rangers did a strong job in shutting them down with Avery off for roughing at 2:39. Avery himself got a scoring chance shortly after coming out of the box, when he went in on a semi-breakaway with a defenseman trying to catch up to him. Harassed from behind, Avery was only able to get off a weak shot that Miller made the stop at 4:55.
Avery got a much better chance roughly two minutes later, when he went in on a full-fledged breakaway and drew a hooking penalty against Buffalo defenseman Teppo Numminen at 7:08.
The Rangers applied heavy pressure during the first-period man-advantage, but could not solve Miller. The Buffalo goalie made his biggest save against Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr at 8:18.
Lundqvist also came up with his best save of the first near the period's midpoint at 10:10. After denying Alex Kotalik amid traffic from the right circle, he came back to rob a wide-open Kotalik from just inside the left circle four seconds later. The dramatic back-to-back saves left Kotalik shaking his head in disbelief.
After killing off a hooking penalty to Jagr in the late stages of the first, the Blueshirts nearly scored on a play that started with Jagr coming out of the penalty box and setting up a 2-on-1 with Matt Cullen, who was still on the ice from the shorthanded situation. As Cullen went to the front of the net, he was hooked by Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder, giving the Rangers a power play for the first period's final 1:39 and into the first 21 seconds of the second period.
Renney made one lineup change for Game 3, bringing forward Jed Ortmeyer back to the fourth line as a replacement for Ryan Hollweg. Brad Isbister had taken Ortmeyer's spot in the lineup for Game 2, and had played on a line with Hollweg and Blair Betts.
Since those changes worked so well for Game 3, it's likely the Rangers would stick with this same lineup in Game 4.
"I just want to make sure, we're playing the same way," Jagr said. "Anything can happen. Like I said, they're the best team in the NHL, but you never know."
Sunday's hero Rozsival agreed that using this victory as a springboard to beating the Sabres would be a tremendous achievement.
"They are a great team, a great offensive team. You just have to keep playing the same way you have been playing the whole game and not change anything," said Rozsival. "It has been working for us, attacking them when we can. You don't want to play too safe, because if you do, you will give them too much time and it will open up the ice for them."