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Sabres end Rangers' season, win 5-4 at Garden

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller made 32 saves against Brendan Shanahan and his Rangers teammates on Sunday afternoon.
POSTGAME VIDEO FROM MSG
Sam and Joe Recap Game 6 WMP
Renney's Postgame Remarks to the Press WMP
Jagr Discusses a Very competitive Series WMP
Lundqvist on Seeing the Rangers' Season End WMP
Nylander on the Rangers' Playoff Exit WMP
Shanahan Reflects on First Year With Rangers WMP
Buffalo's Miller on the Wild Third Period WMP
Drury on Beating a Tough Rangers Team WMP
Sabres Coach Ruff's Postgame Remarks WMP

BONUS VIDEO FROM MSG
Rangers/Devils End of Season Special WMP
Rangers' 2006-07 Season Highlights WMP

Scoresheet | Stats | Faceoffs | Play-by-Play | Shift Chart

During their run to the 2006-07 Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champions, the Buffalo Sabres built a reputation as a team capable of scoring goals in bunches.

Unfortunately for the New York Rangers and their fans, Buffalo lived up to that reputation in the second period of Sunday's Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. The talented Sabres took a two-goal lead into the third period and then held off a furious Blueshirts attack to escape Madison Square Garden with a 5-4 win in the game and a 4-2 victory in the best-of-7 series.

In a series where home-ice advantage meant so much to both teams, it was almost inevitable that the first team to fall at home would end up losing the series. Just one week earlier, the Rangers had faced a 2-0 series deficit before knotting it at 2-2 with a pair of dramatic wins at MSG.

This time, however, the Garden magic came up a bit short, and Buffalo advanced to its second straight Eastern Conference Finals. The Sabres will meet Ottawa for the right to face the West's top team in the Stanley Cup Finals.

It was a tough way for a remarkable Rangers season, yet this spirited team truly went down fighting on Sunday. Drawing a lift from the fired-up MSG crowd, the Rangers outscored Buffalo 2-1 in a wild third period, but could not catch up to the Sabres, whose lone third-period goal -- the series-winner -- was deflected into the net by Jochen Hecht with only 5:10 remaining in the game.

In tribute to those who had supported them through such a memorable season, the Rangers gave one final, emotional stick salute to the Garden Faithful after shaking hands with the Sabres at the end of the game. They drew a standing ovation and chants of "Let's Go Rangers" from the crowd of 18,200, which had helped drive them to nine consecutive wins at MSG before Buffalo ended that remarkable string of success.

"It is tough to realize the season is over," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. "We had a good team. We had a good chance, but we faced a really good team. It was a weird game today. The puck bounced all over the place. Three of their goals were deflections. Two (deflections) were from our guys and one was from them. Obviously the loss in game 5 was huge for this series. We still felt good coming into this game, and I think we played well, but we just came up short."

Trailing 4-2 heading into the final period, the Rangers refused to quit against a Sabres team that had gone 39-5-2 when leading after two periods in the regular season and had miraculously beaten the Blueshirts less than 48 hours earlier in an overtime game in Buffalo. On Sunday, the rallied for a pair of power-play goals in the emotional final period, but fell just short of completing a comeback because of the one score Buffalo managed in those final 20 minutes.

"I thanked our leaders for showing us how to embrace this opportunity and how to prepare ourselves and put it out there," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney of his postgame remarks to his players. "I talked about the guys who didn't get an opportunity to dress in this series or in the playoffs. I told them that we appreciate how we will continue to develop as a team and as an organization based on a hell of a team of this year and one that we will be proud of. And I suggested that words do not console anyone in these situations."

The comeback bid was certainly thrilling. It began when Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr took advantage of an early power-play opportunity to make it a one-goal game at 4-3. Hecht would later restore the two-goal lead with the eventual game-winner, but the Rangers, who scored the first goal in their opening 2006-07 regular-season game, also closed out the playoffs with the last goal of their season.

That goal was scored by Michael Nylander on a power play at 17:09, and it cut the lead to 5-4. Nylanders' second goal of the afternoon made for a thrilling final 2:51, with the Rangers pressuring Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller over the closing moments. Three final shots got through to Miller over the last three minutes, and the Rangers ended the game with a 36-29 advantage over the Sabres.

In the end, however, Miller proved to be the difference for his team, just as he was throughout the series. His 32 saves matched his total from Game 1 and were one more than he had in Game 2 – both games won by the Sabres at home.

At the other end of the ice on Sunday, Lundqvist ended up with 24 saves in what proved to be the highest-scoring game of the entire round. The nine total goals eclipsed the Game 1 total by two, and as was the case in that game, Buffalo rode a big second period to its victory.

The Sabres scored four times in a span of 9:46 in the second, putting tremendous pressure on the Blueshirts to pull the game out in the third. They nearly made it happen, as they refused to buckle and put on an inspired performance against a team engulfed season-long quest for the city of Buffalo's first Stanley Cup.

Trailing 4-2, the Rangers began their third-period rally shortly after drawing the third period's first power play opportunity -- a hooking penalty to Buffalo's Toni Lydman at 4:02.

Jagr cashed in on the crucial opportunity with 54 seconds left in the man-advantage. Fighting for position in front of the net, he picked up a rebound Martin Straka's long shot from just inside the blueline and steered it around Miller for a goal that cut Buffalo's lead to 4-3 with 14:52 remaining in regulation.

"He (Jagr) was excellent," Renney said of the Rangers captain. "As has been the case a number of times this year, he put us on his shoulders and has done everything you could possibly ask for as a coach in order to get the job done. We tried to double his line and he drank that up. That's the other thing that you want your young players to be exposed to; how you take responsibility as a player at this level and under these circumstances. He's all of that."

It was a classic example of the pucks-to-the net style that marked the Rangers power play since the midseason surge that drew them into the playoffs after a subpar first half. At the other end of the ice, the Rangers drew on their defense-first style for much of the period, including a spectacular blocked shot by Paul Mara, who denied a Buffalo scoring chance with Lundqvist out of position at 12:56.

Less than two minutes after the stunning play by Mara, who had also scored a goal in the middle period, the Rangers gave up the game-winner on what initially appeared to be a harmless situation. Buffalo co-captain Daniel Briere took a long shot on Lundqvist, but it managed to catch Hecht's stick on its way to the net and deflect in a 14:50 for the 5-3 lead that would prove too much to overcome.

In the final five minutes, the Rangers did everything they could to get back in the game, and when Nylander scored his second goal with only 2:51 remaining, it appeared the Blueshirts might be destined to engineer the kind of turnaround Buffalo had enjoyed in Game 5.

"We knew we were going to come back," said rookie defenseman Dan Girardi. "(Nylander) scored a great goal there. But that was it. We had three minutes to try to get that tying goal."

Nylander's goal came with only nine seconds left in another hooking penalty to Buffalo's Lydman. Taking a pass from linemate Straka in the left faceoff circle, Nylander moved to the faceoff dot and rifled a 29-foot wrister past Miller to make it 5-4.

But that was as close as the Rangers would come against a Buffalo team desperate to avoid having to come home for a Game 7.

"Going into the third I thought we had a chance to come back," said Ryan Callahan. "We have a lot of character in this room and we had the guys to do it. We showed that we fought hard at the end there had a lot of heart."

Despite all the third-period heroics, this game was truly decided in the middle period, when Buffalo's four-goal blitz reminded everyone in the building that this was, after all, the NHL's highest-scoring team.

Buffalo's Dmitri Kalinin, Jason Pominville, Hecht and Chris Drury all scored in the big Buffalo second period, which also included a power-play tally from Mara.

After Buffalo had taken a 2-1 lead early in the middle period, Mara's goal seemed to throw momentum back to the Blueshirts. The Sabres didn't flinch, however, and fired two more pucks past Lundqvist over the next seven minutes.

"We just wanted to keep getting shots," said Drury. "If we got a good 30-35 shots, we liked our chances. In the first (period), he made some great saves. We knew if we kept up like that we would get our breaks."

Nylander had put the Rangers in the driver's seat after 20 minutes, scoring a beautiful late second-period goal, but the Sabres didn't need much time in the second to pull the game into a 1-1 tie.

"I think we started off (good). We got the lead," said Nylander. "They are a good hockey team. They capitalize on their chances. You saw why they are a really good hockey team."

Buffalo defenseman Kalinin broke the ice against Lundqvist at 1:29 of the second, tying the game when he took a pass from Ales Kotalik and connected from the top of the right faceoff circle. Kalinin's hard wrister eluded Lundqvist to find the top right corner of the net.

Pominville then gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead at 2:53, scoring on a centering pass from Adam Mair, which he blasted through Lundqvist's pads.

The Sabres came right back with another scoring chance at 3:17, but Lundqvist made a left-pad stop on Drury to break up Buffalo's momentum. Just 52 seconds later, the Rangers got their first power-play opportunity, when Briere went off for tripping at 4:09.

The Rangers made Briere and the Sabres pay for that penalty in short order, as Mara tied the game again at 2-2 tie just 31 seconds into the Rangers' man-advantage. Mara took a pass from Karel Rachunek at the top of the right circle and unleashed a drive that flew past Miller and into the net at 4:40.

The goal was the fourth of the game -- more than the teams had combined for in any of the three previous meetings. Five more goals would make it the highest-scoring Game of the series, passing the seven-goal total in Game 1.

"We didn't play them that well in the second period," said Lundqvist. "They really took advantage of us taking chances out there. They kept coming back at us. That is their bread and butter. They love to play like that, scoring from the rush."

Hecht gave the Sabres a 3-2 lead at 7:41 of the second period, scoring on a cross-ice pass from Drury, who had broken across the blueline on the right-hand side of the ice. Drury slid a pass to Hecht, in the left circle and the German-born forward rifled a drive that beat Lundqvist on the stick side.

"They are a team, probably more than any team in the league, that rides the momentum," said Rangers center Matt Cullen, who was on the Carolina team that ousted Buffalo from last year's playoffs. "Once they get one they all get going. That was the same story in every game that we lost. It is tough to come back against a team like that."

Drury then made it 4-2 on a power play at 11:15 with Callahan off for holding. The goal was the result of a diving, heads-up play behind the net by Briere, who picked up a Dainius Zubrus rebound, circled behind Lundqvist, and shoveled a pass it to Drury, who was just outside the crease to Lundqvist's left for an easy tap-in.

"(It was) odd-man rushes," said a disappointed Jagr after the game. "We said that all series long. We just can't give it to them. You have to be careful. We didn't lose it, we just gave it to them. They are a great team, but they aren't better."

The goal gave Buffalo a potentially daunting two-goal lead, although plenty of time still remained in the game. Toward the end of the second period, the Rangers began to regain their offense, with Fedor Tyutin forcing Miller to make a sparkling glove save at 14:50 and the Blueshirts pressuring in the final minute.

The middle period was a huge turnaround from the earlier tone of the game. Nylander had scored on a pretty backhand with 2:50 remaining in the opening period, and the Rangers held a 1-0 lead over the Sabres through 20 minutes.

"It wasn't really a characteristic game that we have played in the playoffs," said alternate captain Brendan Shanahan. "It was a little bit more wide open, but the team fought back and kept fighting back. (We) gave ourselves a chance to tie it up. Anyway you look at it; it still feels like a loss. Regardless of what you accomplished, the overwhelming feeling when you are out is that you are out."

The goal enabled the Blueshirts to come away with the lead in a period Buffalo had largely dominated -- outshooting their hosts 11-8. While Nylander provided the offense, it was Lundqvist who held the fort long enough for the Rangers' top line to strike at even strength.

As expected, the Sabres came out flying, looking to put the Rangers away in the same fashion they dispensed with Philadelphia in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series last year. In that game, the Sabres scored three times in the first period, but this time around, Lundqvist and the Rangers were not about to let them build any sort of lead.

Lundqvist was sensational over the first 10 minutes of the game with Buffalo coming at him in waves and getting two power-play opportunities in the opening seven minutes.

Buffalo drew the first penalty of the game at 2:43 when Shanahan went off for hooking at 2:30, but the Rangers stood up to the Buffalo power play that had victimized them for the game-winning in overtime of Game 5. Lundqvist had to make only one save during the Sabres man-advantage, and he later made a spectacular pad stop on Thomas Vanek just 16 seconds after the power play had ended.

The Sabres soon got another power play chance when Cullen was called for roughing at 6:46. During that that power play, kit was the Rangers showing some offense, as Straka got a break at 7:53 but shot wide of Miller. From there, the Blueshirts were able to kill of the penalty with relative ease, as Buffalo fired one shot wide from the left circle and also misfired on an opportunity from the right point.

That set the stage for Nylander, who made Buffalo pay for its failure to capitalize on penalties. Nylander's scoring move by Nylander was truly one for the highlight reels, as he took Mara's pass on his forehand at the base of the right circle, patiently waited for Miller to make a move, and then lofted an off-balance backhand high over the diving netminder and into the top of the net.

The goal came after the Rangers' top line had held the puck in Buffalo's zone for a long stretch, forcing the Sabres defensemen to keep up with them and threatening to draw a penalty before Mara, at the left point, alertly spotted the wide-open Nylander.

Earlier in the game the Rangers had also put some pressure on Miller, who had to make tough saves against captain Jagr on a turnaround wrister from the right circle at 2:21 and against Shanahan from the slot at

Although it ended the season, Sunday's game also gave a glimpse of the Rangers' bright future -- featuring the Stanley Cup playoff debut of forward Nigel Dawes, who had played eight games for the team at the beginning of the season.

Dawes went on to spend the bulk of 2006-07 in Hartford, where he was one of the Wolf Pack's top players. He replaced Brad Isbister in the lineup on Sunday, joining the Rangers' second line with Sean Avery and Shanahan.

Renney also made a change on the top line in reuniting Straka with Jagr and Nylander. The trio had played together in the earlier regular-season games against Buffalo, but had not been together during the playoff run. Their performance on Sunday --which included producing the first goal of the game -- showed they hadn't lost any of the edge that made them one of the NHL's most effective lines over the past two seasons.

"It looks really good here," Nylander said when asked about the Rangers' performance in 2006-07. "The way we have been playing and the way we played in the playoffs shows we are a good hockey team."

Lundqvist agreed that the Rangers had made big strides over the past season.

"I think we played a good season," said the Vezina Trophy finalist. "We started off up and down, but as the season moved on, we improved as a team. I think all of the guys just stepped up. The way we finished this year, it looks pretty good if we can keep this team. Next year we are going to go for it."

Shanahan, who played with the Rangers for the first time this season, said the team achieved some important milestones.

"Obviously, in the big picture, it is a positive season for the New York Rangers and their development," the three-time Stanley Cup winner said. "(It was) a great learning experience. Buffalo has been through it last year. It is incredibly valuable experience for our young players to go through what we went through this year."

Renney also saw the loss to Buffalo as a real learning experience for a Rangers team on the rise.

"In Buffalo, as a team, we saw a team that had the resolve to withstand a team coming at them hard and perhaps in a way that they did not expect," said Renney. "I'm not going to put words in their mouths though. It really boils down to us being a lot closer than people gave us credit for in the first place. As Lindy (Ruff) mentioned to me in the post-game, "we scared the hell out of them."

Lundqvist also tipped his hat to the fans, who played a big role in the team's success at home.

"They have been great all year. That is why we love to play here," he said. "The best fans in the world. It's been a long time that the Rangers were in the second round of the playoffs. It was a step in the right direction, but obviously we want to go further."
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