NEW YORK - With injuries to a number of players including two of their most-relied upon defensive centermen, the opportunity for other players on the Buffalo Sabres roster to step up was knocking loudly.
And some of them answered with enthusiasm Tuesday night in Buffalo's 4-1 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden with what very well could be their best defensive effort of the season.
Justin Bailey scored the first goal of his career while Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane and Jack Eichel also tallied. Anders Nilsson had to make just 24 saves to pick up his sixth win of the season.
Video: Sabres cruise to 4-1 victory against the Rangers
Even with defensemen Josh Gorges and Dmitry Kulikov and centers Ryan O'Reilly and Johan Larsson out of the lineup, the Sabres were able to mightily limit the Rangers' chances. New York's first shot on goal didn't come until 10:06 remained in the first period and their first shot of the third period didn't come until there was 5:28 left.
Holding the lead through the third period was especially important.
"It's a good team win. There were a lot of areas where we did well in the game tonight in terms of how we want to play," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "Our defense did a simple, but good job with their execution with the puck and moving the puck north and getting the puck up to our forwards. I thought it was probably our best game in the third with the lead, playing how we want to play."
Buffalo started the game strong with a lot of offensive zone pressure. Their forecheck paid off in the form of Buffalo's first goal.
"Everyone today was mentally prepared to play the game. We came out strong and that's really important for our game," Girgensons said.
William Carrier won a battle down low and captain Brian Gionta was able to come away with the puck in the opposite corner. He threw it out into the slot and Girgensons was able to put a nifty backhand up and over Henrik Lundqvist to open the scoring with 7:43 to play in the first period.
Video: BUF@NYR: Girgensons beats Lundqvist to open scoring
Girgensons has four goals in his last three visits to MSG.
After the Girgensons goal, the Rangers would put some pressure on Nilsson and the Sabres defense. Buffalo held strong in their own end until they were able to counter and put another one past Lundqvist.
"That was big for us to get that first period going really well. You know that team's going to bounce back," Girgensons said. "In the second period, they gave a push. Every team does. We stuck with it pretty well and we did a pretty good job today."
Buffalo's second goal came with 38.1 seconds remaining in the period. Cody Franson picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone after a cross-ice clear by the Rangers. He got the puck up to Kyle Okposo who sent it to Sam Reinhart up through the New York zone. Lundqvist got a piece of Reinhart's shot, but Kane, crashing the net, was able to get enough of the puck on his stick to direct it in.
Video: BUF@NYR: Kane crashes net, slips home rebound
Kane now has 12 points (9+3) in his last 15 games, including six points (5+1) in seven road games during that stretch.
Bailey's marker came 1:03 into the second period to make it 3-0. As Kane pressured Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein on the back check just inside the New York blue line along the bench-side boards, Klein threw a blind pass into the middle of the ice that Bailey intercepted. Bailey then dragged the puck around a sliding Klein and scored five hole along the ice.
Video: BUF@NYR: Bailey beats Lundqvist for first NHL goal
Bailey, a Buffalo native and life-long Sabres fan, was playing in his 12th NHL game. Finally netting his first one took a lot of weight off his shoulders.
"It was a huge relief. I've had chances in the past and I can't say it hasn't been on my mind all of last summer and this year too. I was happy it finally came and I can start getting back to playing the way I play.
The Rangers carried the play for most of the second period and finally broke through on the power play with 4:05 remaining. Nick Holden's one-timer from the top of the right faceoff circle found its way into the top corner of the net over Nilsson's blocker to put New York on the board.
Nilsson kept Buffalo in the game, making 14 saves in the second period alone.
"You know you're going to get pushed. They're a good hockey team," Eichel said. "They score a lot of goals. They come at you in waves. Nilss made some huge saves for us. Bails with a huge goal in the second to extend that lead. That's huge for us."
And then Buffalo opened the third period with a dagger. Carrier drew a hooking penalty 18 seconds into the period and the Sabres power play went to work. Eichel scored at the 1:10 mark on a pass from Sam Reinhart.
Video: BUF@NYR: Eichel taps a power-play goal past Lundqvist
Matt Moulson collected a turnover in and dished it over to Reinhart on the left wing. Reinhart's pass to Eichel in the slot was partially deflected by Dan Girardi, but Eichel was able to cash in for his eighth of the year to make it 4-1.
The Rangers' chances were limited in the third and Nilsson credited his defense for keeping a majority of the shots to the outside.
Video: BUF@NYR: Nilsson stones Kreider on the doorstep
"It was fun to stand back in the third and see the way we played, the way we shut the door and shut them down," Nilsson said. "It was easy to be a goaltender in the third period for us."
Gionta's assist gives him 15 points (7+8) in his last 16 games against the Rangers, including a point in each of his last five.
Okposo has 15 points (4+11) in his last 13 games against the Rangers, including at least a point in his last six (2+7).
Reinhart's pair of assists gives him eight points (2+6) in his last seven games. And with his goal, Eichel now has five points (2+3) in his last four games.
The Sabres are set to take on the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday in the Windy City. That game can be seen on NBCSN at 8:30 p.m. ET.
But first, the team is scheduled to practice on Wednesday, so stay tuned for full coverage. Then the Sabres.com crew will take some version of a Ferris Bueller tour around Chicago in the Bluesmobile (or not).