Igor Shesterkin made like Mariano Rivera and saved the game.
Chris Kreider’s overtime goal gave the Rangers a thrilling 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden last night, but that would not have happened without Shesterkin’s heroics.
Shesterkin, who made 27 saves, was brilliant in overtime as he made three jaw dropping saves from point blank range to keep the game tied.
The Rangers were coming off a tough loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night at MSG but had the benefit of playing a home back to back as they looked to rebound like they have all season long.
“Better than yesterday,” said Mika Zibanejad, who helped put Friday night’s disappointing 4-3 loss to the Oilers in the rear view mirror with a goal and two assists. “They had moments in the game where they were creating and I thought we could’ve done a little bit better. Overall, it’s a big win for us, especially with the break coming up before the holidays. It’s nice to finish up with a win.”
Zibanejad remained red hot as he extended his point scoring streak to seven in a row and he’s now had a point in 15 of his last 16 games.
Kreider had a goal and an assist and Blake Wheeler continued his fine play of late with an assist to give the top line a six point night. Wheeler has points in five of his last six games (3 goals, 4 assists). “That whole line was really good,” Laviolette said. “They were reliable and good defensively but they were on the attack the entire night.”
The Rangers began the overtime with the man advantage but after they failed to capitalize, things opened up.
Mittelstadt, who scored the game tying goal in the third period, had a breakaway but Shesterkin denied his back hand attempt for his first of three game savers.
Later, Vincent Trocheck came the other way and fired a shot wide that led to a Sabres’ rush. Mittelstadt again came streaking down the right side on a two on one with Alex Tuch and fired a shot that Shesterkin stopped but could not control.
Tuch was alone in front for the rebound but the Ranger goaltender was equal to the task as he made a third great save. Tuch had to be shaking his head at this point because he was stopped by Shesterkin on a breakway with seven minutes left and the game still tied in the third period.
The Rangers took control of the puck to set up the winning play. Zibanejad skated behind the Sabres net and back handed a pass in front where Kreider was stationed to beat Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen for the game winning goal at 2:28 of the extra five minute session. “Foxy [Adam Fox] made a great play to me and then they kinda made sure I couldn’t shoot,” Zibanejad said. “Got around everyone, looked up and Kreids [Kreider] was basically in the net. It wasn’t a hard decision to make the play to him but it was nice to see the puck go in and we get the win.”
Luukkonen, the 24-year old native of Finland, who beat the Rangers at the Garden back in November, gave up four goals on 33 shots.
The Rangers had a 3-2 lead after two but a turnover in their own zone allowed the Sabres to tie the game less than seven minutes into the third period. Daniel Schneider was in the corner but coughed up a loose puck that Mittelstadt pounced on to tie the game at 6:50 of the third period.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by Ryan Lindgren. The Ranger defenseman moved to the middle of the ice and fired a wrist shot past Luukkonen for his 2nd of the season at 7:19 of the first period.
The Rangers’ league leading power play went to work when Buffalo’s Jordan Greenway was called for hooking Trocheck.
Zibanejad was stationed at his favorite spot on the left side but the Ranger center faked a shot and passed to Artemi Panarin on the right side who wristed it into the net for his 18th goal of the season and a 2-0 advantage at 15:35. The Rangers have now scored a power play goal in seven straight games and the goal gave Panarin points in 26 of the Rangers 32 games.
However, something that has been a little bit of a concern has been the Rangers penchant for allowing the opponent to quickly answer back after they’ve scored and it happened again in this one.
A minute and two seconds after Panarin’s goal, Rasmus Dahlin took a beautiful pass from Jordan Greenway from behind the net and fired it past a helpless Shesterkin to cut the Rangers lead to 2-1 after one.
Buffalo tied the game just 1:42 into the second period on a goal by Jack Quinn but the Rangers top line retook the lead less than six minutes later.
Wheeler skated into the offensive zone and fed Kreider for a one timer. Luukkonen made the initial save but the rebound came right to Zibanejad who buried the puck for his 13th goal of the season and 7th in his last seven games.
The Rangers looked like they were dragging in the opening minutes of the second period but things seemed to pick up after Will Cuylle checked Buffalo’s Ryan Johnson behind the Sabres net. “I thought we were a little bit flat in the second period. You get into a fight and you start to turn it around and the building gets into it,” said Laviolette.
The pair dropped the gloves for a quick tussle and both received five minute majors for fighting. Johnson was already in the box when he learned he was assessed an extra two minutes for instigating, so he came back out onto the ice and was given a game misconduct for leaving the box.
The Rangers don’t get the two points, you can argue even one point, without their goaltender who has found his game after he appeared to have lost his confidence. “He always gives us a chance to win and he really bailed us out, throughout the whole game but especially in overtime there and gave us a chance to win,” said Zibanejad.
At the Christmas break, the Rangers (23-8-1) sit atop the Metro Division and Eastern Conference with 47 points. The Rangers continue to be a resilient bunch as they are now 7-1 after a loss and are 5-0 in the second half of back to backs.
“To be reslilient like that and come back from 2-2, to come back from 3-3 there was a lot to like about tonight the way we played the game,” Laviolette said. “Especially coming off of last night too. To put that to bed and then to wake up and play the way we did with the right mindset right from the start was really good.”