After giving up a goal in the final minute of each of their previous three games, the Rangers entered the final minutes of Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres wondering if they finally would be able to hold on to a one-goal lead.
They got their answer when Jimmy Vesey’s 150-foot shot sailed all the way down the ice and into an empty net with 1:51 remaining, relieving the pressure and sealing a 3-1 victory, their third win in a row.
“I was curious to see how we were going to respond,’’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “We’ve been talking about it, and sometimes, yeah, you get bad bounces, but at some point, you’ve got to learn from your mistakes, and I thought we played a really strong third period. I was really happy the way we forechecked them, and they didn’t create much in the third. That was great to see.’’
The empty-netter was Vesey’s second goal of the night. He scored his first at 1:00 of the second period, giving the Rangers a 2-0 lead 19 seconds after Neal Pionk opened the scoring with his first goal of the season. Conor Sheary scored at 6:07 of the third to cut the Sabres’ deficit to one.
According to Kevin Shattenkirk, Vesey’s empty-netter was clear evidence that the Rangers (6-7-1) are getting better.
“I think we’ve definitely learned things,’’ he said. “The way you have to learn, unfortunately, is to get bit in the [butt] a little bit. So I think we did a good job of, when pucks did turn over, we held our ground; we didn’t rush out of position. [Buffalo’s Jack] Eichel tries to make that backdoor pass, which was a similar way to how we got burned in Anaheim, and Brady [Skjei] is just sitting on it, breaks the play up and Jimmy gets the goal.
“So I think we made sure to take care of the important areas first, in the middle of the ice, and from there we were just able to lock it down.’’
The win didn’t come without a price, though. Impressive rookie Brett Howden left the game after crashing awkwardly into the end boards as he tried to finish a two-on-one break with Vesey late in the second period. Rangers coach David Quinn said Howden, whose head and legs both hit the boards hard, has an upper-body injury. He was held out the rest of the game for precautionary reasons.
Lundqvist, who was brilliant in making 39 saves, also had an injury scare, as he was down for several moments after being hit in the side of the head by the knee of Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin later in the second.
Forward Pavel Buchnevich returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the last two games of the road trip. He stepped into the lineup in Ryan Spooner’s spot, skating at right wing on the second line with left wing Chris Kreider and center Kevin Hayes.
Spooner missed the game with a groin strain, but Quinn said Buchnevich would have been reinserted in the lineup even if Spooner had been able to play “because I think a guy like that can help us win.’’
Lundqvist was at the top of his game, stopping all 15 shots the Sabres launched at him in the first period. Quinn said the Rangers, playing their first home game after coming off a four-game, nine-day road trip, were not playing their best at that point.
“Obviously, we didn’t have a lot of life,’’ he said. “I’m proud of the way we managed to find a way to get it done, though. I thought the third period, we did a pretty good job of managing the puck and getting it behind them. I thought the first two [periods] were bad.’’