It had been six games, and Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, had no points. But he kept plugging away, kept charging hard to the net, kept generating chance after chance after chance.
Finally, when that first point did come, it came in a huge spot.
With the Rangers trying to end a four-game losing streak and having blown two more leads in this game, Lafreniere delivered a shot heard around the hockey world Thursday night. He took a pass from Colin Blackwell in overtime and beat sprawling Buffalo Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark for his first NHL goal. That gave the Rangers a 3-2 win over the Sabres and ended their four-game road trip in just about the happiest possible way.
"I had a lot of good chances, and I was just going to keep going, and it was going to [eventually] go in, for sure,’’ Lafreniere said. "I kept going, kept going, and nice pass by [Blackwell] and kind of an open net.’’
Lafreniere said the goal lifted a weight off his shoulders, but in doing so, he also lifted a weight off his team.
The Rangers (2-4-1) had blown leads in each of the first three games of the trip, and after giving up 1-0 and 2-1 leads in this one, they couldn’t afford to blow another one.
"You know we needed this,’’ coach David Quinn said. "We needed this because, again, we had done a lot of good things.
"I know what we’re capable of doing; these players know what they are capable of doing. And it was frustrating because we thought we played some good hockey over the last four games on this trip. And to come out of this trip with three points [after going 1-2-1], we felt like we played better; we felt we maybe deserved a few more points.’’
The Rangers’ biggest problem in the first six games of the season had been the underperformance of most of the team’s top six forwards. But in this one, second-line center Ryan Strome scored his second goal in three games and linemate Artemi Panarin had a goal and an assist.
No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad didn’t score, but he generated more chances and looked more dangerous than he had at any point in the season. That certainly is a positive sign for the Rangers, who will open a three-game homestand on Saturday with the first of two games against Pittsburgh.
Igor Shesterkin made 23 saves for his first win of the season.
Strome opened the scoring when he banged in a feed from Panarin for his second goal of the season at 9:44 of the first period.
The Sabres tied the score in the final minute of the period when Jack Eichel got behind rookie. defenseman K’Andre Miller and tipped in a pass from Sam Reinhart for his second goal of the season at 19:38.
The Rangers outshot Buffalo 15-5 in the opening period.
Panarin put the Rangers back in front at 16:10 of the second period with his third goal of the season. Reinhart tied it at 2-2 with a power-play goal at 4:47 of the third period to force overtime.
In the third shift of the extra period, Quinn sent out Lafreniere, Blackwell and Miller. Blackwell stole the puck in the neutral zone, Lafreniere drove to the far post and Blackwell found him for the winner.
"Everybody talks about his world-class talent, but this guy’s a [gutsy] kid,’’ Quinn said of Lafreniere. "He really is. I don’t care if he’s a first pick or the 271st pick . . . He’s a kid you want to be around, and . . . for him to get his first goal in that moment, and under that situation, under those circumstances, I couldn’t be happier for him.’’