BUFFALO, N.Y. – Henrik Lundqvist returned to form on Thursday night.
Lundqvist made 27 saves to lead the New York Rangers to a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night, one day after signing a seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension.
“It was weird because it was such a big day yesterday, an emotional day for me,” Lundqvist said.
“And obviously it’s a proud moment for me to realize they’re willing to commit to me and I want to commit to them. But at the same time, I just couldn’t be super happy because you want more wins.”
The contract will make him the NHL’s highest-paid goalie.
Lundqvist was hardly troubled through 40 minutes, but was outstanding in the third period. He made 13 saves in the game’s final 20 minutes, including consecutive breakaway stops on Cody Hodgson and Steve Ott.
“He made some really big saves,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, whose team improved to 15-14. “He’s an elite goaltender that comes up big at the right time and certainly helped us win tonight.”
New York also got production from its star forwards, with Rick Nash and Brad Richards scoring goals.
“There were some pressure moments in the game and our big guys came up big,” Vigneault said.
Mats Zuccarello also scored and added an assist as the Rangers bounced back from a 5-2 loss to Winnipeg on Monday.
Tyler Ennis scored and Ryan Miller made 28 saves in a loss that dropped the Sabres to 3-12-1 at the First Niagara Center.
Lundqvist made four quick saves in under a minute early in the period, including close-range stops on Mark Pysyk and Ott.
He then stopped two breakaways in as many minutes.
First, Hodgson used a burst of speed to earn a breakaway, but Lundqvist used his right pad to stop Hodgson’s backhand attempt. Then, he stopped Ott’s forehand.
“I think for a goalie you just have to be there when mistakes happen,” Lundqvist said. “They’re gonna happen and I felt like they were taking more chances in the third to kind of get going so I knew I had to be ready, but it felt really good.”
Ennis spoiled Lundqvist’s shutout bid at the 17:54 mark of the third, the Sabres’ first goal on Lundqvist in 118 minutes of play.
New York opened the scoring on a highlight-reel goal from Nash.
Derek Stepan tapped Ryan McDonagh’s two-line pass to Nash at the Sabres’ blue line. Nash darted past Tyler Myers, drawing Miller across the goal before reaching back to tuck the puck around the goaltender’s right skate and into the net.
“I was just faking the wide pole and hoping he’d bite on the backhand and hopefully there’d be something open there,” said Nash on his fifth goal, leaving him one point away from 600 for his career.
Marcus Foligno came close to tying the score with 15:53 gone in the second period, but his wrist shot from distance was saved from the top corner by Lundqvist’s glove.
The Sabres opened the third period on the power play, but their struggling unit could barely enter the Rangers zone—let alone record a shot on goal—and has just one goal in its past 13 chances and two in 20.
The Rangers gave themselves a cushion with a power-play goal from Richards at the 8:29 mark of the third. Richards later added an assist and has points in his past five games.
Miller stopped 20 of 21 shots in the first two periods before allowing two late goals just one day after Buffalo interim head coach Ted Nolan said he wanted to build around the goaltender, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Nolan was frustrated that the team’s intensity, as the Sabres have struggled to find consistency during their worst start in franchise history.
“Sometimes we show it, sometimes we don’t,” said Nolan, who is 2-6-1 since taking over for Ron Rolston. “That’s been the common theme since I’ve been here. We try to find that button to push to say, ‘Let’s do it not sometimes but all the time.'”
New York is 14-2 when scoring first, and 1-12 when allowing the game’s first goal.
McDonagh had two assists, giving him points in five straight as well.
NOTES: The Sabres announced that C Mikhail Grigorenko will be loaned to the Russian men’s national junior team beginning Sunday for the world junior championships in Malmo, Sweden. … RW Derek Dorsett and D Justin Falk were scratched for the Rangers. … D Brayden McNabb rejoined the Sabres after a brief demotion to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League, but was scratched.