The New York Rangers took on the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday Night and narrowly escaped with a win. The Rangers ran out the exact same lineup as their 5-2 victory against Washington on Tuesday. This came much to the dismay of many fans, who were interested in the possibility of seeing Vitali Kravtsov make his NHL debut. Following a game where the team definitely didn’t have their best, there is a chance that Kravtsov will be on display on Saturday. The Rangers were absolutely outplayed in the first period, but were able to find their legs for the last 40 regulation minutes and the short overtime period.
The Sabres struck first, early in a first period where they really dominated. The Sabres just threw the puck toward the net and Igor Shesterkin made a couple of saves. The Rangers were unable to clear the crease and Rasmus Asplund stuffed the puck in. After the goal, Buffalo had several other chances that were stopped by Shesterkin. This is becoming a common theme for the Rangers, having slow starts and Shesterkin standing tall in goal. Shesterkin stopped 11 of the Sabres’ 12 shots in the first period.
The Rangers really turned it around in the second period, allowing just two Sabres shots on goal in the period. The Rangers, though outshooting Buffalo 15-2 only scored one goal thanks to Colin Blackwell. Following an unconventional breakaway in which Jeff Skinner was all alone without a stick, the Rangers had a two-on-one of their own. Ryan Strome broke in with Blackwell and made a perfect slot line pass. Blackwell hit the crossbar, but Strome passed the rebound to Artemi Panarin who set up Blackwell for a one timer that he did not miss. The Rangers looked for more but were unable to get it as Dustin Tokarski stood tall keeping it tied.
New York took the lead around six minutes into the third period. The kids line of Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil, and Julien Gauthier put together a great shift in the offensive zone. The line sustained pressure in the offensive zone and after a nice keep in from Jacob Trouba, Chytil was able to send a loose puck into the net to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Gauthier and Lafrenière each got an assist on the goal, a great sign for the Rangers. The Rangers held the 2-1 lead into the final minute of play until Tage Thompson scored with three seconds to go to tie it for the Sabres. The Rangers, who looked like they had the game all but wrapped up, were headed to overtime.
The overtime period was an odd one. The teams didn’t generate many chances in the overtime. It was a lot of passing and trying to dominate possession for each team. Following a shot on goal from Taylor Hall and a frozen puck by Shesterkin, the Sabres won the ensuing faceoff. The puck left the Rangers’ zone and when the Sabres re-entered, Zibanejad forced a turnover. Adam Fox passed to Panarin who sprung a two-on-one with Zibanejad. After a quick give and go, Panarin made one final pass to Zibanejad who slapped a one-timer past Tokarski, ballgame over.
The Rangers were lucky to narrowly escape with a win after blowing the lead in the third period. It was really nice to see Zibanejad score the game winner as he continues to get his mojo back. Strome and Fox both extended their point streaks to 11 and nine games respectively. The Rangers are clicking on all cylinders recently which has been big for them in the standings. New York has now climbed into a tie with the Flyers with 38 points. They are now just three points behind Boston for the 4th spot in the East division. The Bruins have three games in hand, but it’s not completely out of the question for the Rangers to outpace them. The addition of Kravtsov may help, but it’s not playoffs or bust this season. Being competitive is most important, anything else is a plus.