BUFFALO — Henrik Lundqvist admittedly is a tough grader, but he gave his 36-save performance in a 2-1 overtime win over the Sabres on Thursday night the highest marks.
“I’ll rate that as an A,” said Lundqvist, who was pulled on Tuesday night against the Blue Jackets after allowing three goals on 14 shots but rebounded to save the Blueshirts’ bacon against the pesky, determined Sabres at KeyBank Center.
Lundqvist had allowed eight goals in the two previous losses to the Sabres.
“Tonight I felt like I was confident,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to make those extra saves when you feel good about yourself. I put together four or five really strong ones, then take a step back and have a ‘C’ game. When my game drops, I have to have more ‘B’ games rather than a ‘C’ if we want to have a chance to win.”
Timely goals and timely saves, Alain Vigneault has been preaching, are what win hockey games.
The Rangers got two of the former and plenty of the latter as Chris Kreider scored with 1:04 left in overtime off a terrific give-and-go with J.T. Miller. The goal came seconds after the Rangers failed on a four-on-three power play.
“I knew the time was about up on the power play,” Miller said. “I figured there was one more chance for an odd-man break. I knew when Kreids gave it to me, I was going to give it right back to him, and he did a good job of burying it. I thought me getting a shot through was pretty unlikely.”
The Rangers are 14-4-1 after a loss this season and moved to 18-7-0 on the road.
After Rick Nash drew a holding call with 2:44 left in the second period to give the Rangers their second power play, the Blueshirts snapped an 0-for-16 slide with the man advantage as Mats Zuccarello tipped Ryan McDonagh’s shot past Robin Lehner (42 saves). It was Zuccarello’s second goal in four games.
But Cody Franson had a timely score of his own. The defenseman took a backhanded pass that bounced off a Rangers skate in front and zipped a shot past Lundqvist with 5:31 left in regulation to forge the tie.
“It had everything you needed in a hockey game — great goaltending, scoring chances on both sides, two teams working extremely hard for every inch that was available out there,” Vigneault said, “and for us, it turned out well on a great play by J.T. and Kreids.”
With the Sabres on a power play in the third period, Lundqvist had to stop Kyle Okposo on the doorstep and denied Rasmus Ristolainen’s long slap shot before the Rangers failed to get a shot on a shorthanded two-on-one break.
Nash, who had a strong game, beat Lehner from the left side on a rush soon after, but his high wrister hit the post. “When they had that power play in the third, they had three in-tight scoring chances, and we had some unbelievable chances to make it 2-0,” Vigneault said.
In the first period and through most of the second, the Rangers weren’t competing enough to draw penalties, waiting too long on rushes and allowing the Sabres’ backcheck to catch up. Buffalo’s forecheck forced defensive-zone errors that were erased by Lundqvist, who clearly deserved his high grade.