Rough night for Rangers forward John Mitchell, who inadvertently kicked in the first Sabres goal and committed an ugly turnover in the offensive zone that led to a three-on-one that gave the Sabres a one-goal lead.
All in all, a rough night for the Rangers, who failed to gain any ground in an effort to hold on to first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. A 4-1 loss to the Sabres was a disappointing finish to a 4-3 homestand and could prove costly in the seeding race. The Rangers have 99 points with eight games to play; the Penguins have 98 with nine to go.
With the score tied 1-1 in the second, Mitchell's turnover allowed Drew Stafford to snap the tie at 13:43 with a rocket over Henrik Lundqvist's glove. With the Rangers pressing in the third, Marc Staal got caught pinching and Tyler Ennis scored on a two-on-one at 14:00, firing the puck under Lundqvist's right arm. Derek Stepan's giveaway led to Stafford's second goal just 2:09 later.
"It was pretty obvious odd-man rushes killed us tonight," said Lundqvist, who made 23 saves. "It's tough when they can walk in and pick their corners."
Coach John Tortorella said he didn't think his team wasn't as desperate as Buffalo and that defensive lapses were deadly. "We struggled with our backcheck. That second goal really kills us because [Ryan] Miller was playing so well," he said. "We have to identify our coverage off the [Buffalo] rushes. That effort on that fourth guy coming back is a problem."
The Sabres are 24-0-2 when leading in the third period, and Miller, who made 26 saves, deserves credit as well. After Artem Anisimov was tripped with 17:13 left in the third, Miller stopped Marian Gaborik winding through the middle, then stopped his rebound and two other shots. The Sabres have won three straight and Miller, 12-1-3 in his past 16 games, has really stepped up.
Zuccarello, 2-1-3 in six games and a spark to the power play since being recalled from the AHL, will be missed. Ruslan Fedotenko, a healthy scratch for the last two games, probably will be in uniform against the Maple Leafs Saturday night, but the Rangers could give forward Casey Wellman a look.
The Sabres' first score was a fluke. Travis Turnbull was awarded the first goal of his career after he was crushed by Stu Bickel into the end boards, the puck came in front and Mitchell inadvertently kicked it by Lundqvist at the left post at 3:14 of the second period.
"I don't think we're getting a big offensive play right now," Tortorella said.
Martin Biron (12-5-2, 2.38 GAA) is expected to start Saturday in Toronto, where the Blueshirts will make another bid to top the 100-point mark, last reached in 2005-06. Said Ryan Callahan, "They're going to be a desperate hockey club, too."