BUFFALO — Twenty-three games is a long time to go without scoring a goal. So who could blame Vladislav Namestnikov for his reaction when he got his first one in nearly two months? The winger raised his arms in the air as he skated back to the Rangers’ bench, as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
“About time, it felt like,’’ Namestnikov said. “I’ve been getting chances, but just the puck wouldn’t go in. So it’s kind of a relief that that one went in. I was just happy.’’
Namestnikov scored two goals, the second one into an empty net, as the Rangers beat the Sabres, 6-2, on Friday night. They did it without a single point from their first line, which had been carrying the team for most of the calendar year.
Instead, the Rangers (25-24-8) got two goals from their second line, three from the third line and one — the first of the game — from the fourth line.
“It’s good to see other guys get rewarded,’’ Namestnikov said. “I thought we played a good 60 minutes. I know we had to weather the storm a little bit there in the third, but overall, we were happy with our game.’’
Boo Nieves, Jesper Fast, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich also scored for the Rangers. Alexandar Georgiev, who had made 55 saves in a 4-1 win over Toronto on Sunday, again was good, making 31 stops to lift his record to 9-9-0.
Playing with seven defensemen for the third game in a row after coach David Quinn decided to scratch 19-year-old forward Filip Chytil, the Rangers addressed the unorthodox lineup by putting defenseman Brendan Smith at left wing on the fourth line, with Nieves and Connor Brickley, who was called up from AHL Hartford on Thursday.
On their first shift together, Nieves scored off an assist from Smith to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 4:09 of the first period.
The Rangers took a 2-0 lead at 14:03 of the first period when Namestnikov fired a shot from the left point through traffic that was deflected in by Fast. The assist was Namestnikov’s first point in 11 games.
The Sabres (28-22-7) made it 2-1 when Jeff Skinner crashed the slot and slammed in Jason Pominville’s pass from behind the net at 53 seconds of the second period for his 35th goal. But Vesey crashed the net and jammed in Buchnevich’s pass from behind the net to put the Rangers up 3-1 at 1:51 of the period.
Skinner scored his second goal at 16:56 of the second on a power play to cut the Rangers’ lead to 3-2, but Buchnevich’s goal at 15:59 of the third gave the Rangers some breathing room.
Eight seconds later, Namestnikov — who hadn’t scored since Dec. 18 — made it 5-2. A bad bounce off the back boards trapped goalie Linus Ullmark behind the net and left Namestnikov with a wide-open net for his fifth goal of the season. He added the empty-netter at 19:02.
Said Quinn, “I’m really happy for Vladdy, because I think he’s played two great games. I thought that Winnipeg game, he had some great chances. I’ve talked a little bit about the chances he’s had and hasn’t been able to capitalize on them . . . Listen, the guy’s played well this year. I’m glad he got rewarded statistically, because I know in this sport, you want to score goals. I want him to score goals. And he’s doing all these other things well; it’s good to see him get rewarded.’’
Mika Zibanejad said of Namestnikov, Fast and the secondary scoring, “They’re working extremely hard, and we need everyone. They’ve been doing a good job defensively and forechecking and maybe not getting the result . . . They haven’t got the goals they deserve, in my mind. But they got a couple today and it’s fun to see. Big goals, too, and we were able to close this game out in the third. This is a big trip coming up and it’s a good way to start it off.’’