Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik made sure the slide stopped here.
In the past three games, the Rangers hadn’t had a lead: shut out by Pittsburgh, never led against the Islanders, and were down 2-1 early in the third period to the Buffalo Sabres tonight.
But Gaborik, on a smooth feed from Michael Del Zotto, sped in and roofed a backhander over goaltender Ryan Miller at 5:32 of the third to tie the score. It was his second in back-to-back games and team-leading 29th, and suddenly there was hope at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s a great pass by Del Zotto, to see him cutting through like that,” said Callahan, who would win it by beating Miller at 2:59 of overtime. “Gabby’s been finishing those all year, and he does it again.”
You could say the same thing about captain Callahan, whose goal, a wrister under Miller’s arm, was his career-high 24th of the season and his 100th overall.
"If you're gonna write it up,” he said, “I guess that's the way you want to do it."
At 39-15-6, the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers remained seven points ahead of Boston. “We came back (Friday) night to get a point,” said coach John Tortorella. “For us to come back and tie it up and not lose one like we did, we took a step in the right direction.”
It wasn’t easy. For the fourth time in the last five games, the Rangers allowed the first goal. On a 4 on 4, Marc Staal shanked a shot and leapt to deflect a high clearing pass. Matt Ellis chased down the puck after Staal slid to knock it into the right corner. The hustle led to his centering pass to Stafford, who was squarely in front of Henrik Lundqvist, as Del Zotto and Derek Stepan stood watching. At the other end, Miller was extremely sharp, stopping all 14 shots.
Carl Hagelin, who scored twice against the Sabres on Dec. 10, tied the game on a wraparound at 7:38 of the second. The speedy Swede’s shot bounced off Miller’s stick and through his pads. The assists on Hagelin’s 10th went to Staal and Brad Richards.
“Our line was clicking,” said Hagelin. “We created a lot from down low.”
Those guys (Callahan, Richards and Gaborik) are our leaders and they played great tonight.”
The Rangers, now 9-6 in overtime, had an opportunity to end it in regulation when they had a power play with 3:25 left. Lundqvist’s loose stick was nudged away by Tyler Ennis, who was called for interference. Staal, who scored a power play goal against the Islanders, hit the crossbar with 1:43 left and Callahan tipped a long shot off Miller’s mask.
The third period began with the Sabres on the power play for 1:25, a carryover from Artem Anisimov’s delay of game penalty after clearing the puck into the stands. Stafford scored his second of the game, as the Sabres came up ice with three passes and then beat Lundqvist high-glove side just 44 seconds in.
Both teams had played on Friday night, but the game was feisty, which was a little surprising. Paul Gaustad dropped the gloves with Brandon Prust eight seconds in, and the banging continued. “We wanted this badly,” said Richards. “We’ve been a little bit all over the map the past two weeks.”