BUFFALO -- To quote Brad Richards, "It was a weird night . . . and a good one."
The Rangers, struggling to score for most of the season, scored five times in 2:58, a franchise record, and Richards notched the first hat trick of his 12-year career as the Blueshirts inched closer to securing a playoff berth and eliminated the Sabres from the postseason hunt with an 8-4 drubbing at First Niagara Center Friday night.
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In their wildest game of the season, the Rangers raced to a 3-0 first-period lead when Carl Hagelin and Richards scored by deflecting pucks off Buffalo defensemen and Ryane Clowe scored when Ryan Miller whiffed while trying to clear the puck. The Rangers were up 6-0 a little more than seven minutes into the second before the Sabres scored twice in six seconds.
"We're not going to start talking about how we're going to score six a night," Richards said. "It's pretty obvious we got some bounces tonight that we're not going to get every night. We've been working hard trying to do things offensively the right way, and sometimes that's what happens. Hank [Lundqvist] keeps us in a few games [that] we didn't deserve to score many at all, and now it goes the other way."
The eighth-place Rangers (23-17-4, 50 points) moved to within three points of the fifth-place Maple Leafs, two behind the sixth-place Senators and one of the seventh-place Islanders. The Blueshirts are two up on the ninth-place Jets. Aside from Ottawa, which has five games left, each of the other teams has four games to play.
"Forget about the goals," said coach John Tortorella, who liked the team's starts in the past two games, with two power-play goals in the first against Florida. "I thought we were on our toes. We looked quicker, more alert. It's promising . . . We haven't had many [breaks]. We'll certainly take it this time of year."
The Rangers stunned the Sabres with three goals in 1:14 at the end of the first. Hagelin streaked down the left side and his wraparound caromed off Adam Pardy's skate under Miller at 18:42. Richards' wrister from the right struck Christian Erhoff and flew past Miller at 19:39. When Miller, who made 41 saves in an emotional win in Boston after the bombings, fanned on a puck he was trying to clear, Clowe was there for the gimme at 19:56.
"We weren't sitting back," said Richards, who had 22 two-goal games in his 895 previous games. "We got some bounces and it snowballed on them."
The five goals broke a record set on Feb. 15, 1985, when the Rangers scored five in 3:22 in an 8-7 win over Edmonton. Rick Nash's 19th, on a give-and-go with Derek Stepan, made it 6-0 at 7:05 of the second. Ryan Callahan's breakaway pushed the lead to 7-2 at 14:28.
All that was left was for Richards to set a personal best. It came on a knuckler that would have done R.A. Dickey proud at 12:32 of the third.
Was the hat trick a confidence boost? "I don't even want to talk about it," he said. "I don't want to jinx it. If it's back now, it's a great time to have it."