They battled to the end, as they always do. But there just wasn't enough battle early on, and that ended up costing the Rangers.
The 3-2 loss to the Sabres Tuesday night at the Garden, along with wins by the Canadiens and Hurricanes, left the Rangers just a point ahead of eighth-place Carolina and three ahead of ninth-place Buffalo, which has three games in hand on the Rangers.
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The Rangers twice cut two-goal deficits to one, the latter on Artem Anisimov's goal from the slot 6:05 into the third to counter Jochen Hecht's tip-in 80 seconds earlier.
But, as happened Sunday against the Lightning, a strong third period wasn't enough. Ryan Miller (29 saves) was very sharp for the Sabres, twice stopping Mats Zuccarello in the final six minutes to preserve the win.
The Rangers are now in a 4-9-1 spin, and much the same as happened Sunday, they were unable to generate much in the first period. The Rangers' normally solid penalty killers were the culprits, giving up a goal to Tyler Myers.
"It wasn't really bad, but maybe there could be a little more intensity, a little more on the body," Brian Boyle said of the Rangers' first period, in which they had only five shots, and just one in the first 10 minutes. "We know what we have to do. There's ways to swing momentum."
Henrik Lundqvist was hopping mad in the second period after another Sabres power play in which a Buffalo forward was allowed to camp out inches from Lundqvist's mask to generate another goal.
Bryan McCabe and Michael Sauer were the defensemen caught in space on that goal, 13 minutes into the second, and the Sabres grabbed a 2-0 lead as Lundqvist fumed.
"The way we kill penalties, we don't want to get tied up with a guy in front, but we need to get a stick on him," said Dan Girardi, who was on when Thomas Vanek parked in front of Lundqvist and screened Myers' point shot at 17:15 of the first. "It seemed like they always had a couple extra guys in front."
McCabe was not caught unaware 45 seconds later on a Rangers power play. He had been banging his stick on the ice, calling for the puck often through the first two periods and firing away from the point, as he was brought to New York to do; on this play, he drew a Sabres penalty-killer to him, fed off to Erik Christensen on the side boards and Christensen snapped off a shot that beat Miller to the short side to cut the deficit in half. It was McCabe's first point as a Ranger.
McCabe finished with six shots on goal, and five others blocked. The Rangers threw 26 shots on Miller over the final 40 minutes, and as they did Sunday, finished the game with a flurry, including Zuccarello's golden chance in front that Miller poked away.
"We're a pretty good team when we have the lead," Lundqvist said. "Unfortunately, we don't have it that often, and teams down the stretch are going to be tight defensively with the lead."