Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan scored power-play goals, and Henrik Lundqvist made 29 saves to lift the New York Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, tying the Eastern Conference semifinal series after four games.
The best-of-seven matchup now shifts back to Buffalo, where the Sabres – the NHL’s best team in the regular season – took what seemed to be a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Now they will be feeling the heat from a nervous, title-starved town unwilling to accept anything less than the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
Game 5 is Friday night, with Game 6 back in New York on Sunday.
The Rangers had to survive a video replay on a late save by Lundqvist that the Sabres felt didn’t keep the puck out of the net.
Lundqvist dived onto his stomach with 17 seconds left and stopped Daniel Briere’s stuff attempt with his right pad as the puck slid on the goal line. For the first time in five close goal calls in these playoffs, the Sabres didn’t benefit from a video review.
Jagr scored his fourth of the playoffs and 71st overall in the post-season in the second period. Shanahan doubled New York’s lead in the third as the Rangers earned their second straight 2-1 win. Michal Rozsival ended Game 3 on Sunday in double overtime.
Ales Kotalik answered for Buffalo less than a minute after Shanahan’s goal, but it wasn’t enough. Ryan Miller was sharp again in making 26 saves, allowing two goals for the fourth straight game.
The Sabres hadn’t lost consecutive games since dropping three in a row from March 7-10. But the Rangers earned their ninth straight win at Madison Square Garden and 12th in 13 games.
Shanahan made it 2-0 by showing the patience and poise of a 38-year-old, three-time Stanley Cup champion. He waited for Miller to make his move, and when the goalie dropped to his right side, Shanahan put the puck past his outstretched pads and to make it 2-0.
Before the announcement of Shanahan’s sixth goal of these playoffs and 68th in the post-season, Kotalik scored 33 seconds later to cut Buffalo’s deficit in half.
For the second straight game, Jagr and the Rangers took advantage of a penalty in the opening minute of the second period. Jagr’s goal in Game 3 came just after Henrik Tallinder left the penalty box, but this time he cashed in while defenceman Toni Lydman was off for hooking him.
Michael Nylander shot from above the right circle. Jagr deflected it off defenceman Teppo Numminen and past Miller 45 seconds into the frame.
That seemed to spark the Sabres, who came at the Rangers in waves, but found lots of resistance. Buffalo managed nine shots, after getting 10 in the first period, and tried to get the power play on track.
The Sabres had three advantages in the final 8½ minutes of the period that ended with them still up a man. With 17 seconds remaining in Marcel Hossa’s stick-holding penalty, Rangers defenceman Marek Malik went off for holding Derek Roy.
With the crowd holding its breath while the dangerous Buffalo power play went to work, the fans cheered and exhaled when Jed Ortmeyer cleared the puck down the ice from in front of Lundqvist. After Hossa came out, Roy’s shot ricocheted off the right post and away from the net with 27 seconds left.
The Rangers killed off the remaining minute of the penalty in the third period, leaving the Sabres with three goals in 25 chances in the series.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff tried more changes in the third period, when he moved Briere, Buffalo’s leading regular-season scorer, from centre to left wing on a line with Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly. Connolly had been playing on the fourth line.
Notes: Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo’s sixth-leading scorer in the regular season and one of seven Sabres with 20 goals, was scratched. Ruff threatened the move before Game 3 and made good Tuesday, replacing the right wing with rookie Daniel Paille, making his playoff debut. Afinogenov had only one goal and three assists in eight post-season games. … The Rangers improved to 16-10 in Game 4s when trailing a series 2-1. … The Sabres haven’t been shut out since April 1, 2006, at Toronto.