It was the re-emergence of Artem Anisimov and the 11th-hour performance of Martin Biron rather than the return of Marian Gaborik that helped the Rangers snap a huge dry spell at Madison Square Garden tonight.
Anisimov scored twice, including the game-winner on a wrister at 1:32 of overtime to down the Sabres 3-2, and Biron, filling in for Henrik Lundqvist, who reported to the Garden stricken with the flu, made 29 saves against his former team who were the evening’s heroes.
“It wasn’t hard to get up to play against Buffalo, a team I played with for so many years and I’m friends with them and watch them back home,” said Biron. “And with the success we need to have at home here, it was easy to get going for.”
The victory was only the third home win in nine games for the Rangers (8-7-1) who finish a four-game homestand on Sunday against the Oilers.
In overtime, Biron had made a critical stick save on Thomas Vanek on a 2 on 1 just seconds before Ruslan Fedotenko, who scored the first goal of the game, and Anisimov took off the other way on a 2 on 1.
Anisimov, who hadn’t scored in nine games, had driven to the net and fallen, then grabbed a rebound of Dan Girardi’s point shot from between a defender's skate in the slot, spun and whipped a high shot past Jhonas Enroth for the decider.
" I had a great chance in overtime and that's hockey, you miss it, they go the other way and score," said Vanek.
Rangers coach John Tortorella had hoped that Gaborik, who had missed 12 games with a separated left shoulder, would provide instant offense. “We were a big offensive play from winning a game (against the Caps), we didn’t get it done, and that’s where he can help us, “ Tortorella said before the game. “I think we’re grinding but you also need to get a skillful goal along the way, I think he brings that and can make a play to make someone else better.”
Instead it was Anisimov with the skilled shot.
“I see the puck and shoot top shelf,” said Anisimov. “Simple. It’s a big win; we lost two games, we played hard today and deserved to win. To win at home is so important right now. I feel free.”
“Big goal by Artie, we needed it” agreed Gaborik, who played 18:40 and had three shots. “The first game’s always a tough one, but I felt better than I expected.”
At 15:46 of the third, Fedotenko almost gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead. Jhonas Enroth, on his knees, was collecting the puck on the ice in front of him, when Fedotenko slammed his stick into Enroth’s paddle and the puck went though the pads and in. But the goal was waved off, with the ruling that a whistle had blown and Tortorella exploded on the bench.
"I'm not complaining, but it's a goal," Tortorella said afterward. "That's three in the past week (disallowed). Against the Capitals, an apparent Fedotenkop score was waved off whe it was ruled that he interfered with Michal Neuvirth in the crease.
In that 5-3 loss to the Capitals, the Rangers coughed up three one goal leads. By the end of the second period tonight, during which the Rangers had just four shots, they had blown two more. Fedotenko’s first period goal was equaled on a scramble in front when Tyler Ennis poked the puck past Biron after the goaltender had stopped a Vaenk wraparound at 15:33 of the second.
Brandon Dubinsky won a faceoff in the Sabres zone, retrieved the puck behind the net and found Anisimov in front, and the Russian center slammed in his fourth of the season with 48 seconds left in the period. That lead evaporated quickly. More sloppy defensive play to the left of Biron, with threee Rangers crowded below the goal line, allowed the puck to slip to Mike Grier alone in front and he tied the game with just 2.9 seconds in the period.
Biron, starting for his fourth game of the season, turned away all eight shots in the first. With 14 shots on Enroth, it was the first time in nine games that the Rangers had outshot an opponent in the first period. And it was the down-low, gritty type of play that the Rangers had relied on during Gaborik’s absence that resulted in a goal at 14:04.
Brandon Prust and Michael Sauer batlled along the boards and Fedotenko poked the puck under Enroth during a scramble in the crease. For Fedotenko, it was his first score in ten games.
More quotes, notes and stats in The Wrap, coming up here in a bit