At least according to Jaromir Jagr.
“They probably think it’s over, that’s OK. A series can change with one play, with one period. You just never know,” the Rangers superstar said Friday night after his team went down 2-0 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Not going to work, Jaromir, was Ryan Miller’s message after Buffalo’s 3-2 comeback win at a rocking HSBC Arena.
“They’ve been trying to put thoughts in our heads for the last 3-4 days, but we have a lot of respect for that team …,” said the game’s first star.
“By no means do we think this series is over,” added Miller, who stopped 31 shots.
Game 3 goes Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Chris Drury scored 24 seconds into the third period and Thomas Vanek won it at 10:11 after the Rangers thoroughly dominated the home team for two periods. The Rangers said all the right things but surely they headed home deflated after giving their very best effort and still falling short.
“I definitely thought we played almost a perfect game, but we made two mistakes and it cost us,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who showed his frustration after the game by slashing the top of the doorway going into the dressing room, leaving an eight-inch gash.
“Having said that, I feel excited to be going back to New York and playing the next game. Our fans will be with us,” added a more subdued Lundqvist.
Brian Campbell also scored for the Sabres, who were outshot 22-9 through two periods but found another gear when it mattered most.
“We talked about having a good opening five minutes in the third period and fortunately we got one right away,” said Drury. “That seemed to energize our bench.”
On the winner, the Sabres took advantage of a rare shift by the Rangers’ fourth line and made them pay, Drew Stafford setting up Vanek with a cheeky between-the-legs backhand pass that the Austrian winger flipped past Lundqvist for the winner. Yellow pompons shook with unbridled joy as a sellout crowd of 18,690 rejoiced in the comeback.
Paul Mara and Martin Straka scored for the Rangers, who will now count on the MSG crowd to help them salvage the series.
“We’re going home now where we’ve been good over the last few months,” said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. “The one thing I know is that it’s not over by any means. And I know our players feel that way.”
The Rangers succeeded in slowing down the speedy Sabres and stagnating their transition game. But some key line juggling by Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff helped spark his team to a third-period comeback. He demoted a struggling Maxim Afinogenov down to the fourth line. Stafford took his spot alongside Derek Roy and Vanek and the winner came a few shifts later.
“I think Max has been struggling … he can’t find his game right now,” said Ruff. “But it’s the time of year when you go with your hunches and try do what’s best for the team.
“Sometimes that gets guys going.”
Winger Dainius Zubrus, meanwhile, was a force throughout for Buffalo, laying out both Jagr and pest Sean Avery with huge hits.
“He was very important,” said Ruff. “He was just a bear down low for us.”
Straka opened the scoring on the game’s first power play, his blast from the point beating a screened Ryan Miller at 10:08.
The Sabres got their own man advantage moments later and tied the game on Campbell’s wicked wrist shot from the faceoff dot at 10:58, Lundqvist beaten top corner on the stick side.
The Rangers outshot the Sabres 13-4 and should have been up after 20 minutes but Miller stood tall, including a sparkling glove save off Matt Cullen with 50 seconds to go in the period.
Rangers defenceman Michal Rozsival, who was a game-time decision after sustaining a leg injury in Game 1, hobbled off the ice at the buzzer after taking a thunderous hip check from Sabres blue-liner Dmitri Kalinin. He did, however, return for the second period.
The Sabres, still being outplayed, were handed a four-minute power play on Fedor Tyutin’s high-sticking penalty but didn’t record a single shot on goal while hearing the boo-birds from fans at HSBC Arena.
The two teams played a tentative middle period but the Rangers went ahead on another power play with 1:20 left, Mara’s shot from the point eluding Miller on the glove side – stunning HSBC Arena.
The paint must have been peeling off the dressing room walls between periods because the Sabres came out charged, Drury deftly deflecting a Toni Lydman shot just 24 seconds into the third. That set the stage for Vanek’s winner some 10 minutes later.
The Rangers got a power play with 1:54 left in the third period on Daniel Briere’s cross-checking penalty but Miller saved the day with a huge save on Jagr.
Notes: Winger Brad Isbister replaced Jed Ortmeyer in the Rangers lineup. Ortmeyer joined forward Colton Orr and defencemen Thomas Pock as healthy scratches. Forwards Daniel Paille and Andrew Peters and defenceman Nathan Paetsch were once again left behind by the Sabres.