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Third-period surge carries Buffalo to 3-2 win

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Michal Rozsival and goalie Henrik Lundqvist keep an eye on Thomas Vanek on Friday night in Buffalo. Vanek would go on to score the game-winning goal at 10:11 of the third period.
Sam and Joe Recap Game 2 from Buffalo WMP
Renney's Postgame Remarks to the Press WMP
Jagr Discusses the Game 2 Loss to the Sabres WMP
Shanahan on Turning the Series Around WMP
Lundqvist on What Changed Friday's Game WMP
Buffalo's Miller on His Big Night in Net WMP
Sabres Coach Ruff's Postgame Remarks WMP

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

The Rangers have found themselves in some late-game nail-biters throughout the past two months, but the final 1:54 of Friday night's Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at HSBC Arena probably took the cake.

When Buffalo Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere was called for cross-checking with his team clinging to a 3-2 lead at 18:06 of the third period, the Rangers suddenly had an opportunity to get the game to overtime.

Unfortunately, that's when Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller took over. Miller, who finished the night with 31 saves -- many of them spectacular -- put on a clinic in the final 1:54 and ended up denying Paul Mara's late blast from the right circle with a sprawling save that would epitomize his performance over the entire evening.

Mara had given the Rangers a 2-1 in the closing moments of the second period, and he seemed poised to be a hero again In the third -- until Miller intervened. Only 1:16 remained after the big save on Mara -- and the Rangers net was empty for an extra attacker -- but the Sabres' determined penalty killers were able to bail Miller out the rest of the way.

The end result was a 3-2 loss to a team the Blueshirts had led 2-1 after two periods of outstanding defensive hockey. The Rangers had held Buffalo, the NHL's regular-season champion, to only nine shots in the first two periods, but they gave them nine more in the third – two of which would prove very costly.

The teams now head to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 of the series on Sunday afternoon and Game 4 on Tuesday night. Buffalo leads the series 2-0, but the Rangers should get a big boost from playing at home, where they have won seven straight and 10 of 11. Should they continue that run of success, they could get the series tied up by the time they return to Buffalo for next Friday night's Game 5.

On the play just before the Rangers' final power play began, the Blueshirts had nearly knotted the game when captain Jaromir Jagr took a centering pass from the left wing and was instantly 1-on-1 with Miller. Buffalo's goalie somehow made the save, and on the ensuing scuffle over the rebound, Briere took the penalty that gave the Rangers their last big opportunity to force OT with a power-play goal.

Martin Straka and Mara scored the Rangers goals on power plays, but it was Buffalo's third-period surge that turned the game around for the home team.

Once the fateful third period began, Buffalo wasted little time tying the score on only their 10th shot of the game. Defenseman Toni Lydman's drive from the right point, resulting from a turnover in the Rangers zone, was redirected into the net by Chris Drury -- standing just outside the crease to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist's left. The goal came just 28 seconds into the third and suddenly made the raucous crowd a factor once again.

Thomas Vanek put the Sabres ahead 3-2 at the 10:11 mark, scoring his second straight game-winner on a heads-up backhand pass from Drew Stafford. Collecting a Brian Campbell pass from the right corner, Stafford had a clear shot at Lundqvist himself. Rather than shoot from his position in the slot, he fed a quick backhand down to Vanek in front, and the Buffalo forward, who had a pair of Game 1 goals, notched is third goal of the series.

Up until the third-period goals by Drury and Vanek, the Rangers had done everything they needed to do to gain a split of the series' first two games. Incredibly, they had held the NHL's top offensive team only nine shots through two periods en route to a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.

Only 48 hours after enabling the Sabres to take the first game of the series on the strength of a big second period, the Rangers appeared to be in control for most of the game and had mounted a big second period of their own.

Mara scored on a power play with only 1:20 remaining in the middle period, and given that the Rangers had allowed only four shots through to Lundqvist in the first period and five more in the second, it appeared the Blueshirts just needed to keep doing what they were doing.

Indeed, the defense-first style of play that drove the Rangers to a 17-3-4 record heading into this series came out in full force on Friday. Avoiding the penalty problems that had plagued them in Game 1, the Rangers turned the tables on the Sabres in scoring their two power-play goals – one by Mara and an earlier tally by Straka in the first period.

Only Miller's remarkable netminding had kept the Rangers from enjoying a bigger lead through two periods. Miller was forced to make save after save on a night when the team in front of him hardly resembled the one that ran away with Game 1.

Mara's goal came on a blast from the left point, after he had taken a pass from Brendan Shanahan, stationed along the right boards. With Matt Cullen crashing toward the net, Mara's shot went over Cullen's stick and past Miller for the 2-1 lead

The goal appeared to be a back-breaker, since six of Buffalo's 10 regulation-time losses in 2006-07 came when their opponents managed to break a 1-1 tie by scoring the game's third goal. The Sabres, however, would save their best for last, turning the third period into something reminiscent of their second-period effort in the opener.

Ironically, part of the Rangers' momentum came from one of the few penalties they had taken in the game to that point. A remarkable kill of a four-minute double-minor in the second period seemed to give them the confidence they would need to take the lead.

They had been forced to dig down deep to erase that four-minute double-minor to defenseman Fedor Tyutin, who was called four high-sticking Jason Pominville off a faceoff at 4:57 of the second. Because Tyutiin's stick cut Pominville's lip, the Rangers defenseman was assessed a mandatory four minutes on the play.

Killing the penalty, the Rangers did not allow a single Buffalo shot through to Lundqvist, and they actually got one scoring chance of their own when Straka and Shanahan broke in on a 2-on-1 that ended with Shanahan firing just wide of the net.

Lundqvist wastn't tested until late in the second period, when he had to make back-to-back saves on open shots by Ales Kotalik and Adam Mair at 17:34 and 17:39. Those saves sent the play the other way, and Jagr drew a penalty breaking into the zone at 17:48. The tripping call against Dimitri Kalinin would set the stage for Mara's go-ahead goal.

The Blueshirts played a strong first period and were tied 1-1 going into the first intermission, thanks to a power-play goal from Straka that gave them their first lead of the series.

It quickly became clear that the Rangers had rediscovered the type of pressuring, puck-control game that allowed them to have so much success in their opening round sweep of Atlanta. They outshot Buffalo by a wide 13-4 margin in the first and got multiple quality scoring chances from their top three lines.

That first-period effort was a complete turnaround from the opening 20 minutes of Game 1, when the Sabres peppered Lundqvist. This time, Lundqvist had a fairly easy period after making his biggest save in the first four minutes.

Coming into the game, the Rangers had been determined to stay out of the penalty box, and their diligence was rewarded when Buffalo took the game's first penalty, giving the Blueshirts a long-awaited chance to work first on the power play.

Only 17 seconds after Briere went off for holding, the Rangers made sure to cash in, taking a crucial 1-0 lead just over the period's midway mark.

Straka got the goal, scoring on a long drive through traffic from just inside the blueline, directly across from Miller. The puck sailed through a screen set by Petr Prucha and Michael Nylander, who were converging on the crease. It hit Miller on its way to the net, but had enough momentum to cross the goal line at 10:08.

The 1-0 lead didn't last long. Only 29 seconds after Straka scored, Prucha was sent off for tripping. Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell made quick work of the power play, taking Tim Connolly's pass down in the right circle and picking the top left corner with a perfect shot that made it 1-1 at 10:58.

This time around, the Rangers did not let Buffalo turn its power-play goal into a shot of adrenaline. In the opener, the Sabres had quickly picked up two more scores after getting on the board on a man-advantage. Yet the Rangers managed not only to shut Buffalo down but also to make the period's final 9:02 a showcase for their own offensive prowess.

Nylander got the Rangers back on the power play at 15:09 ,when he took a long pass, skated over the blue line and was headed toward the net, making Buffalo defenseman Toni Lydman commit a holding penalty just to slow him down.

The Sabres killed off the penalty, but the Rangers continued to apply pressure into the late stages of the period, constantly harassing the Sabres as they tried to bring the puck into the neutral zone. On one such play, after forcing a turnover in the Bufafalo zone, Marcel Hossa was sprung for a wide-open shot at 18:21. Then, with only 49 seconds to go, Hossa and Cullen went in on a 2-on-1. Cullen took a pass from Hossa in the high slot and unleashed a hard wrister that Miller caught in sparkling fashion.

Lundqvist made his biggest save of the period on the Sabres' second shot at 3:49. Drury had taken a sudden pass out of the right corner and was alone in front of the net, but Lundqvist reacted quickly enough to get into position and stop Drury's 20-foot snapshot.

The Blueshirts got strong pressure throughout the first period from their No. 1 line of Hossa, Nylander and Jagr, who were able to establish control in the Buffalo zone right from the game's first minute.

The Rangers second line also established itself early on with a scoring opportunity in the early going. Just over seven minutes into the game, Sean Avery fired a backhander from just inside the blueline directly at Miller. The puck hopped over the stick of Straka, who was open in front of the goal, and Miller prevented him from doing anything with the rebound.

Feeding off the offense generated by the first two lines, the third line followed with another scoring chance by Ryan Callahan, who was robbed by Miller from the right circle at 7:57. Miller came back moments later to make a big stop on Jagr from just inside the right circle at 8:48.

The Rangers were having more success keeping Buffalo out of their zone and beating the Sabres at their own game by generating some chances off the rush, including one by Avery at 9:25. Following the stop on that play, Miller had to make another big stop, gloving a rebound attempt by Cullen

The Rangers were bolstered by the return of defenseman Michal Rozsival, who had missed the second half of Wednesday's game with a leg injury. Rozsival's quick recovery time enabled the Blueshirts to avoid having to play without their season-long leader in ice time and key member of both the power-play and penalty-killing units.

One lineup adjustment was made, as head coach Tom Renney brought Brad Isbister in for his first playoff game. Isbister joined the fourth line, replacing Jed Ortmeyer, who was a healthy scratch.
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