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Sabres win in overtime, take 3-2 series lead

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Jaromir Jagr had a golden scoring chance in the second period, but was denied by Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.

POSTGAME VIDEO FROM MSG
Sam and Joe Recap Game 5 from Buffalo WMP
Renney on the Team Not Playing Its "A Game" WMP
Shanahan on the Goaltending in Game 5 WMP
Jagr on Losing Such a Close Game WMP
Lundqvist on the Upcoming Game 6 WMP
Buffalo Coach Ruff on Afinogenov's Play WMP
Buffalo's Miller on the Game-Winning Goal WMP

BONUS VIDEO FROM MSG
Scenes from the Rangers' MSG Viewing Party WMP

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

Only 7.7 seconds.

That was all that separated the New York Rangers from a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night at HSBC Arena.

Seven-point-seven precious seconds.

But Buffalo's Chris Drury and Maxim Afinogenov somehow turned what should have been a jubilant Rangers' Game 5 victory into a sudden, stunning defeat.

Drury scored to tie a 1-0 game with only 7.7 seconds left in regulation, and Afinogenov connected on a power play at 4:39 of overtime -- giving the Sabres a rather miraculous 2-1 win over a Rangers team that held them scoreless on their own ice for the vast majority of the game.

The Sabres' 2-1 victory sends the series back to Madison Square Garden for Game 6 on Sunday afternoon. With Buffalo now leading the series 3-2, the Rangers must prevail at home to force a decisive Game 7 in Buffalo. That's not such a tall order, however, since the Blueshirts have won nine in a row and 13 of their last 14 at The Garden.

This game might one day be remembered as a miracle in the minds of Buffalo sports fans, but for the Rangers, it was a tough way to be sent home. Suddenly, the Blueshirts have their backs to the wall for the first time in their remarkable 2007 playoff run.

That Afinogenov would be the hero was somewhat ironic. He had been scratched for Game 4 at MSG and had not played particularly well in Game 5 either. But only 11 seconds after Blair Betts went off for tripping in overtime, it was Afinogenov blasting a shot from just inside the blueline past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to cap off Buffalo's comeback

The Rangers had also had a power play opportunity in the brief overtime -- shorter than even the five minutes given at the end of regular-season games -- but they could not capitalize on a hooking penalty to Drury. Killing off the Blueshirts' power play seemed to bolster the Sabres and set the stage for the winner after Betts was penalized.

Earlier, a last-ditch, third-period goal by Drury had forced the game into overtime.

The Sabres co-captin scored seconds after his team won a faceoff in the Rangers' zone. With their goaltender Ryan Miller pulled for an extra attacker, the Sabres got the puck came back to Tim Connolly in the high slot, and he rifled a desperation slap shot at Lundqvist.

Thomas Vanek got a piece of the puck on its way toward the goal, but Lundqvist, looking to become the first NHL goaltender to blank the Sabres in 2006-07, gave up a rebound to Drury in the base of the left faceoff circle. That would prove costly, as Drury quickly rifled it into the net to send the game into overtime at 19:52.

Lundqvist was absolutely spectacular throughout the evening, making 36 saves until Drury broke through to end the shutout. He made two more in overtime before Afinogenov's long shot sailed through a screen set by Vanek, who initially appeared to have redirected the puck.

In a series where home-ice advantage has meant everything, the Rangers were so close to breaking serve on Friday. Now they'll have to hold it again at Madison Square Garden for a chance to come back and win the series in seven games next week. Game 7 is scheduled for Tuesday night at HSBC Arena.

Martin Straka has apparently put the Rangers in the driver's seat with only 3:17 left in regulation, when he scored the game's first goal just a few minutes after another potential goal by Michael Nylander was called back.

Even Straka's good goal would require a video review. His high shot from the left circle, unleashed off a pass from Brendan Shanahan, was struck so hard that it went all the way to the back of the net and rebounded out. On-ice officials immediately waved of the goal, but the red-light had come on, and a brief video review confirmed it.

That goal seemed to burst the Sabres' bubble, at least until Drury forced the overtime.

Nylander appeared to have another goal at the 12:14 mark, but Brad Isbister was called for goaltender interference on a play that ended with his center scoring from the slot.

The washed-out goal resulted from a 2-on-1 break up ice for captain Jaromir Jagr and Isbister. Jagr held the puck as Isbister went to the net. Rather than shoot through Isibster's screen, Jagr dropped a pass back to the trailing Nylander, who shot it into the net for an apparent goal.

The referee immediately ruled, however, that Isbister had interfered with Miller when he briefly bumped the Sabres goaltender before the puck came back to Nylander. Buffalo failed to do much with the resulting power play, and the Rangers had another shorthanded chance when Betts broke up ice, forcing Miller to make a sprawling save at 14:13.

Until the wild final minutes, the third period was rather devoid of good scoring chances, even though the period's early stages included a power play for each team. The Sabres had one on a penalty to Jagr that had carried over from the middle period, but it was the Rangers who got the best scoring chance when Betts fired a slapper at Miller just 36 seconds into the middle period. Buffalo's Dmitri Kalinin pulled down Betts on the play, giving the Rangers a chance to work their own power play after the Jagr penalty expired.

Through two periods of action, the teams had been locked in a scoreless tie, with the goaltenders --Lundqvist and Miller -- continuing to be the story in a series. Lundqvist would finish the game with 38 saves, while Miller had 22. After the game Rangers head coach Tom Renney was quick to note that Buffalo had outplayed his team for much of the game but a fabulous performance by his goaltender had given the Blueshirts a chance to win.

After a first period in which the Rangers outshot the Sabres by an 8-7 margin, Buffalo erupted for 17 second-period shots, all of which were stopped by Lundqvist. He really put on a clinic in the middle period, making a series of highlight-reel saves and playing tremendously well under the heaviest Buffalo pressure.

After losing twice at Madison Square Garden in Games 3 and 4, the Sabres had come back home without the swagger that had marked the first two games, in which they took a 2-0 series lead. It was immediately clear, though, that a friendly Buffalo crowd would give them a boost in Game 5 as they sought to hold serve and go back to MSG with a chance to close out the series.

The Sabres came out of the first intermission determined to solve Lundqvist, but the Rangers netminder would have none of it, even though Buffalo enjoyed three second-period power-play opportunities. Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, Miller was the Sabres' best penalty-killer, as his team had limited the Rangers to 0-for-5 on the power play through 40 minutes and 0-for 7 overall

Having taken several penalties in the first period, the Sabres didn't learn their lesson in the second, as Jaroslav Spacek went off for hooking at 2:17. Buffalo killed that off, but later handed the Rangers their fifth power play chance at 5:11 when Ales Kotalik tripped Marcel Hossa, who had been sprung in front of the Sabres net.

Prior to the call on Hossa, Miller and Lundqvist both made sparkling stops, with Miller standing up to Jagr, who was alone in front of the net for his best scoring chance of the night -- a quick redirection attempt at 4:31 of the second.

Miller had turned it up during the Kotalik penalty, making his most spectacular save of the game at 6:53, when he robbed Shanahan on a slapper from the slot after he took a perfect pass from Michal Rozsival. That save enabled the Sabres to survive the Rangers power play.

Shortly after they killed off the penalty, the Sabres were testing Lundqvist in a big way. Lundqvist caught a hard shot from Afinogenov with his left arm and the puck deflected out of harm's way, just to the left of the goal. Nineteen seconds later, a shot by Daniel Briere slipped between Lundqvist's pad, but the Vezina Trophy finalist fell down on it before the Sabres could bang it into the net.

The Sabres got only their second power play of the game at 9:45 of the middle period, when Karel Rachunek went off for holding. The Rangers clamped down defensively once again, allowing only two shots on Lundqvist, who made a tremendous save on Kotalik from the left boards before stopping Vanek on the rebound.

Another Buffalo power play soon followed the call against Rachunek, as Dan Girardi was sent off for hooking at 12:17. Buffalo threw everything it had during their man-advantage, but the Rangers netminder was able to make tough saves against Dainius Zubrus, Drury and Tim Connolly (twice) during a wild 10-second stretch that no doubt left he Sabres what they would have to do to score.

Yet another pressure-filled stretch of the middle period came with just over two minutes remaining, when the Sabres launched two labeled shots at Lundqvist, including one by Briere that hit the right post and prompted a brief video review, which quickly revealed that it never crossed the line.

In the opening period, the Sabres were visibly motivated -- playing with an aggressiveness that enabled them to gain longer stretches of puck-possession time than they had at any point in their Game 4 loss. Buffalo, however, hurt itself by trying to make too many passes in the zone, and when they did get a shot off, Lundqvist was right there for the save.

The Rangers goaltender sent an immediate message that he would be on his game. He got off to a strong start, making a dramatic save just 38 seconds into the game off a wide-open shot from Briere, who picked up Zubrus' pass out of the right corner in the high slot and fired a wrist directly at the left side of the net. Lundqvist managed to throw his right pad out to the side to catch the puck before it entered the net. Against most other goaltender, Briere's shot would have found the back of the net.

Less than four minutes later, Lundqvist again robbed Briere on the rebound of a shot from the left point by Brian Campbell. Briere was perfectly positioned just outside the crease in front of Lundqvist, who denied his shot at 3:58.

The Rangers got the game's first power play opportunity when Buffalo's Derek Roy went off for charging at 5:02.

Buffalo survived the penalty, with Miller making his best stops against Paul Mara and Sean Avery, but the Rangers went right back on the man-advantage just 57 seconds after Roy came out of the box. This time it was Sabres forward Adam Mair sent off for interference at 7:59.

Zubrus drew the first penalty against the Rangers at the 14:25 mark, when he took a pass at the top of the right circle and moved down toward the crease for a shot that Lundqvist stopped. Trying to obstruct Zubrus' path to the net, Blueshirts defenseman Fedor Tyutin was whistled for hooking.

Just as they were at the Garden, the Rangers penalty killers turned in an outstanding effort during the Tyutin penalty, with no shots getting through to Lundqvist.

Five-on-five play didn't last long following the Tyutin penalty, as Buffalo's Zubrus was whistled for tripping at 17:16 -- after a brief stretch in which Buffalo mounted more offense in the Rangers zone that it had during the entire power play.

The Sabres killed the Zubrus penalty and even managed a couple of their own scoring chances while shorthanded. Lundqvist was forced to make a save against Connolly at 18:10, and near the end of the penalty, the Sabres got a 2-on-1 that resulted in Roy firing wide of the net.

Despite the loss, Rangers players remained upbeat and confident that they would again tie the series on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, where they have not lost since March 13.
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