When Mats Zuccarello's shot bounced off Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller to Chris Kreider midway through the second period last night, the Rangers forward figured he had nothing to lose.
"It's a play I've tried a lot. I don't know if it's ever worked for me," said Kreider, who was to Miller's right. "You throw it in front because you don't have any other option. You see the goalie's a little out. Best case, it goes in, but hopefully it just sits there where your teammates can bang it home. It worked out, but it was just a whole lot of luck."
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Kreider's wrister banked off Miller's back and caromed in to give him two goals in the last two games and provide a 2-0 lead at 11:21 of the second. That wound up being the final score in the Rangers' most dominant performance of the season as they won their second consecutive game and first at Madison Square Garden.
The final tally could have been far more lopsided. A vintage Miller faced 46 shots, a season high for the Rangers (5-7). Henrik Lundqvist (29 saves), who earned his second shutout of the season and 47th of his career, was tested only in spots, mostly in the third period, when he made 11 saves.
"The last five or six minutes, they came a little harder, but we deserved this one for sure," Lundqvist said.
Lundqvist and rookie Cam Talbot, who backstopped a 3-2 win over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday night, have been impressive in the past seven games, allowing only 12 goals.
Neither the Rangers nor the Sabres has been producing much offense. The Rangers entered ranked 29th in the NHL with 1.64 goals per game and Buffalo (1.57) was last. But in the opener of a four-game homestand after playing 10 of their first 11 on the road, the Rangers kept the pedal down.
"We created enough chances to score more than two," said Carl Hagelin, who played a confident second game after coming off long-term injured reserve after offseason shoulder surgery. "I think guys are finding their groove."
The first came on a power play -- the third man-advantage goal for the Rangers in two games. With Tyler Myers off for tripping, Derick Brassard's right-point blast went through J.T. Miller's screen at 8:23 for Brassard's second goal in three games.
But it was the line of Stepan, Kreider and Zuccarello, who was awarded the first star, that excelled. They had 18 shots, led by Stepan's seven.
"It's easy to see when 20 [Kreider] gets going," said Stepan, who won 15 of 24 faceoffs as the Rangers controlled the play for the majority of the evening. "He's actually speeding my game up. He's pushing the pace."
Coach Alain Vigneault credited Miller for giving the Sabres (2-12-1) a chance in the game. He also singled out the Hartford coaches for helping Kreider improve. He had two goals and four points in six AHL games.
"Using his speed and size, he's been making it real tough on the other team's defense," Vigneault said. "Since he's been back [for five games], he's been, if not our best forward, one of our best."