NEW YORK – The New York Rangers turned in another impressive performance at Madison Square Garden Saturday night, beating the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 in a game that was only in doubt in the final minute. The Rangers entered the third period with a 4-1 lead after scoring three times in the second but found themselves with just a solitary goal lead after Toni Lydman scored at 18:39.
“Going into the third, you’d think a team down 4-1 would kind of ease up, but no not them,” said Scott Gomez, who was prepared for more of the same the final 10 games of the season. “All the teams we play from now it’s just the way it is. Guys are playing for the playoffs, if they’re out of the race they’re playing for their jobs next year.”
After Lydman’s goal, Henrik Lundqvist turned in some key saves before Ryan Callahan scored an empty netter at 19:35 to clinch it for the Rangers. For Callahan it was his second goal of the game and 19th of the season, already a career high. Asked about closing in on 20 goals for the first time in his career Callahan said “it’s nice. I struggled a bit last year with the injury and then I came back not too well and then this year I thought I’ve been playing pretty well. Just being able to put the puck in the net is a big thing for me.”
While Callahan’s second goal was easy coming as it did into the empty net, his first was anything but. Skating in his own zone “I heard Dubi [Brandon Dubinsky] block a shot and took a quick peak and just took off,” he recalled afterwards. Dubinsky found the tape of Callahan’s stick with an inch-perfect pass just on the Buffalo side of the red line with nobody between him and Sabres goalie Patrick Lalime. Callahan deeked to his left and swerved to his right, before putting the puck in the Buffalo net.
For Callahan, the two goals were a nice 23rd birthday present, though this fact was lost on his coach. “I didn’t even know it was his birthday,” John Tortorella admitted after the game. “I coach him. I’m not too personally involved with him as far as birthdays.”
Tortorella was not particularly troubled with the team nearly blowing a three goal lead in the third period. “I look at it as a win,” he said of the game. “You’re not going to play perfect games. We found a way to win a hockey game at a very important time of the year.”
Buffalo’s head coach Lindy Ruff was not disappointed at his team’s effort either. “Nobody quit-nobody’s going to quit,” he said. “We made a couple of mistakes. They weren’t mistakes from playing poorly; it was from playing aggressive.”
Buffalo’s aggression backfired when Clarke MacArthur was called for a slashing penalty at 2:21 of the third period. Two minutes earlier, just 18 seconds into the period, MacArthur had scored the Sabres’ second goal . Moments before the penalty Rangers goalie the Sabres came perilously close to scoring their third. In retrospect, the MacArthur’s penalty may have been the finel turning point in the game.
The Sabres now face an uphill battle to qualify for the playoffs. The team is five points behind the Montreal Canadiens and eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo will have to leapfrog the ninth-placed Florida Panthers first, whom they trail by four points. Not much room for error for the team from Lake Erie.
With the win the Rangers have a three point cushion on Montreal. New York is one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes and sixth place in the Eastern Conference-a difference it can make up by beating the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night. The Rangers have two games in hand over the ‘Canes.