Gerard Gallant angry after Rangers fall in OT to Sabres and their rookie goaltender
BUFFALO — Gerard Gallant seemed calm enough when he started his postgame news conference Friday night. But the more he talked, the angrier he got.
“We want to win games,’’ he said after the Rangers lost, 3-2, in overtime to the Sabres. “I’m [ticked] off tonight, because we got one point. We want to win hockey games. That’s what we’re here for.
“We clinched [a playoff spot], what, a week ago? And it seemed like we clinched and the season’s over. It’s not the way it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to compete every night and try and play hard every night and do the best you can. And I didn’t like the way we played tonight at all.’’
The Rangers (44-21-11, 99 points) are three points behind the second-place Devils and four points behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes. They have played one more game than New Jersey and two more than Carolina.
For the fourth time in their last five games, the Rangers started off poorly, this time getting thoroughly outplayed in the first period and falling behind 2-0 by the midpoint of the second. As they almost always do, they rallied, getting a goal from the Kid Line in the second period and one from Adam Fox in the third to tie the score and force overtime.
But the Sabres’ Jeff Skinner beat Jaroslav Halak (31 saves) at 1:50 to deal the Rangers their second loss in two nights. Sabres goalie Devon Levi, making his NHL debut, had 31 saves.
Gallant wasn’t interested in looking at any positives.
“Oh, yeah,’’ he said sarcastically. “We came back and still didn’t play much better. We were fortunate to . . . get a couple of goals, but we didn’t play well. We had one line show up tonight and play hard every shift. That was it. And we were fortunate to get a point.’’
The line Gallant thought played well was the Kid Line of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. Chytil ended up with the second-most ice time among Rangers forwards with 17 minutes, 6 seconds, less than only Artemi Panarin (17:22). He had more than No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad (16:33) and No. 2 center Vincent Trocheck (15:59).
Kakko’s goal at 12:17 of the second got the Rangers on the board, cutting their deficit to 2-1. The goal was set up by an aggressive pinch by defenseman Braden Schneider to keep the Sabres from clearing the puck down the ice and keep the pressure on.
The puck crossed the blue line, but Schneider got it to Lafreniere, who entered the zone and fired a shot at Levi. He made the save, but Chytil chipped the rebound over the goaltender, and Kakko drove the net and batted the puck over the line for his 15th goal.
In the third period, the Rangers were able to turn up the pressure on Levi, against whom they took only two shots in the first period. They launched 20 at him in the third and Fox was able to jam in a rebound to tie the score at 9:45.
“We wanted to get more shots, more traffic,’’ Fox said. “I think we kind of let him settle in, maybe, in that first period, we had two shots there, and he got comfortable and made some good saves there as the game went on.’’
The Rangers were outshot 11-2 in the first period. Their first shot came 10:20 into the game, a routine wrister by Jimmy Vesey from the left wing that was an easy catch for Levi, who signed with Buffalo on March 17 after finishing his junior season at Northeastern.
One minute later, J.J. Peterka opened the scoring for Buffalo, tapping in a cross-ice pass from Dylan Cozens at 11:20. Jordan Greenway made it 2-0 on a brilliant power move down the right wing, shoveling a one-handed backhand shot past Halak at 7:39 of the second period for his fourth goal of the season.