If they are to make a serious bid to reach the playoffs, Thursday’s game was virtually a must-win for the Rangers. Playing their 36th game, with only 20 remaining after this one, they could not afford to drop points against a Buffalo Sabres team that entered the night in last place in the East Division with only seven wins.
But coming off their first victory in more than a month, the Sabres did not make it easy on the Rangers.
Buffalo’s Tage Thompson tied it with 3.6 seconds left in regulation, but Mika Zibanejad scored with 27.7 seconds left in overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 win.
"It’s a kick in the [butt] when you give up a goal with three seconds to go and play the way we did for the second and third period,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said. "But I thought we were able to kind of pull ourselves together and, you know, we got two points. And really, at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about.’’
Zibanejad scored his 12th goal — and ninth in the last nine games — on a one-timer off a two-on-one pass from Artemi Panarin, who had been sent up ice on a pass from Adam Fox. The assist extended Fox’s point streak to nine games.
"It wasn’t the cleanest game, but there was no doubt in my mind we were going to find a way,’’ said Ryan Strome, whose second-period assist on Colin Blackwell’s goal extended his point streak to 11 games and his assist streak to 10 games, which tied him with Rod Gilbert for the longest assist streak by a forward in team history.
"I thought we had the puck most of the game,’’ Strome said. "I thought we got a little bit cute, but we still had  shots . . . Some big moments by big players and, you know, good team win. And we’ll take it and move on.’’
The Rangers pulled into a tie with the Flyers for fifth place in the East. With Boston’s 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh, they moved within three points of the Bruins, who currently hold the fourth and final playoff position in the division. The Rangers have played three more games than Boston and one more than Philadelphia.
Filip Chytil’s goal at 6:17 of the third period gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead, but Thompson’s second goal of the season forced the overtime. It came seconds after Chris Kreider’s shot at an empty net was blocked by Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.
As he did in Tuesday’s game against Washington, goaltender Igor Shesterkin kept the Rangers in the game with some high-quality saves (he stopped 11 of 12 shots in the first period), and the Rangers seemed to pick up their game in the second.
Blackwell tied it at 6:40 of the period with his ninth goal of the season on a crazy play that started with an unusual Buffalo breakaway. Jeff Skinner knocked the puck away from Libor Hajek at the right point and was off on a breakaway, except without a stick. Skinner skated up ice kicking the puck like a soccer player until he got to the slot, where Hajek recovered and knocked the puck away to the corner.
Panarin cleared the puck out to Strome, who passed to the left circle for Blackwell, who’d just come onto the ice. Blackwell fired a shot off the near post, and Panarin recovered the puck after it ricocheted to the other side of the ice. He sent it right back to Blackwell, who had a second chance and scored this time.