Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 2/1/12

The New York Rangers have been strong in the second half of back-to-backs all throughout this season, but they were anything but strong tonight in Buffalo. Actually, based on their play in regulation, I don’t think they deserved to win the game, but their goaltender felt otherwise and carried them to victory pretty much singlehandedly. It’s a win and obviously anytime you can get one of those at this stage of the season it is a big deal, but the Rangers have some serious improving to do if they wish to maintain that top spot in the Eastern Conference. At many times tonight, the effort was unacceptable.

The first period of this game wasn’t exactly the most exciting 20 minutes of hockey this year, but the Rangers were forced to kill off back-to-back powerplays that overlapped to give the Sabres a 42-second 5-on-3 advantage. The Blueshirts, having the third best penalty-kill in the National Hockey League, successfully kept Buffalo off the scoreboard by killing both penalties. Their positioning was perfect and obviously shot-blocking became a huge factor as well, as it always does.

In the second period, the Rangers lost some serious steam and were being outworked in all areas of the ice. That’s the second straight game in which the Rangers played weak hockey in the middle frame but luckily got out of the period without much damage done. You can say fatigue was a factor tonight since they were coming off a thriller against the Devils just the day before, but to be fair, the Sabres were in action on Tuesday as well, so there really is no excuse there.

Offensively was where I was most disappointed in the club, extending into the third period as well. They are normally all over loose pucks, especially against a weaker team like the Sabres, but for some reason they weren’t the same relentless group of guys on the forecheck in this one. That’s unacceptable for a team that feeds off of hard work and energy. Remember what all of the Rangers I interviewed this past weekend told me was the key to the team’s success? Right.

The pace of the game picked up in the overtime period, and the Rangers finally had some offensive chances with Tyler Ennis in the box for boarding Dan Girardi. Not that it has much meaning now, but does anyone else think that was a borderline call? It looked like Ennis was riding Girardi the whole way and finished his check. It was Girardi that went in awkwardly making it look worse than it actually was. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff may have had an argument there.

Anyway, Ryan Miller stood strong in net for the Sabres during overtime with the Rangers pressing for the game-winner. We would eventually head to a shootout where Miller was finally beat by Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan (played a tremendous game tonight), while Lundqvist only allowed one goal to Jason Pominville down the other end. The final score would be in favor of New York (City), 1-0.

Tonight’s hero for the Rangers, without a doubt, was goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist had to stand on his head at times in this game, working his way to a 34-save shutout and giving his team a chance to win. His best stop came on Brad Boyes in the shootout, when Boyes originally beat him but he managed to stick out the glove and keep the puck from crossing the line. That was a thing of beauty and, looking back at it, prevented the Sabres from winning in the next round.

Oh, and just to put it out there, why would the Sabres have won in the next round? Because Jason Pomiville’s goal was not matched by the one and only Brad Richards, who is now 0-for-7 (!!!) in shootouts this season. We went over this on Tuesday, but I still do not understand why Tortorella keeps putting Brad in there. I know he has a good past record in the shootout, but here in New York he’s had no success. I don’t get it.

Aside from Lundqvist, I think what won the Rangers the game tonight was shot-blocking. They did a lot of it and they did it often, which was important because the Sabres were swarming the net the entire night waiting for rebounds to squeak out. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh were the best of everyone in this category.

But I don’t want to get too high on this win because there is a lot of work that needs to be done. The team’s overall effort must be better, the powerplay needs to show improvement once and for all, the offense needs to get more shots on net from in close – the list goes on and on here. If anything, tonight was a wake-up call.

And about that powerplay; it was 0-for-2 tonight, and the first one in the third period was probably their worst effort with the man advantage all season long. That was as ugly of an attempt to stabilize pressure as I’ve seen in a long while. John Tortorella can shake his head in disbelief all he wants, but it needs to improve moving forward. The Rangers aren’t the Bruins of last season; they’re not going far in the playoffs without strong special teams in both ends.

The good thing is that the Rangers will now have three full days to work on that along with the other issues before meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon. If they don’t find ways to improve before now and then, they will be embarrassed in that game fore sure. 

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