It sure didn’t look that way through 59 minutes Friday night.
Maxim Afinogenov, a healthy scratch in Game 4, scored 4:39 into overtime as the Sabres beat the New York Rangers 2-1 in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series to lead the best-of-seven showdown three games to two.
The goal came with Buffalo on the power play, the Sabres connecting for the first time on six chances on the night and only their fourth power-play goal in 31 chances for the series.
The Sabres avoided what looked like sure defeat until captain clutch Chris Drury tied it with eight seconds left in the third period, setting up Afinogenov’s overtime heroics, the Russian winger powering a blast from the point that beat Henrik Lundqvist through the five-hole.
Afinogenov dove to centre ice in celebration, mobbed by his teammates, a sellout crowd of 18,690 at HSBC Arena going berzerk.
Game 6 goes Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in New York (2 p.m. ET) and no doubt Lundqivst and Buffalo’s Ryan Miller will once again treat fans to a netminder’s duel.
Lundqvist was superb in defeat, stopping 39 of 41 shots. Miller stopped 21 of 22 shots.
Martin Straka had given the Rangers a 1-0 lead with 3:17 to go in the third period when his wrist shot from the left faceoff circle eluded Miller and beat him stick side just under the crossbar. The puck came out so fast a video review was needed to verify the goal, but Straka already knew it, celebrating with his Rangers teammates.
The crowd was stunned, the home team having dominated on the shot clock and in scoring chances, but not on the scoresheet.
But they were on their feet with eight seconds left with Drury tying it when he slipped in a rebound from the side of the net and Miller on the bench for a sixth attacker, setting up overtime in the pivotal game of the series.
It was a low-scoring game, but that wasn’t indicative of the entertainment value, a hard-fought affair dominated by the play of both goalies.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff promised his team would come out aggressively and they did just that.
Daniel Briere almost scored right off the bat, but was stopped by a wonderful pad save from Lundqvist. Briere had another good chance foiled by a Lundqvist pad save a few shifts later.
Buffalo forward Paul Gaustad made his return to play after missing three months with a severed tendon above his left ankle. On his very first shift he hammered Rangers defenceman Fedor Tyutin along the glass, igniting calls of “Goose, Goose,” Gaustad’s nickname.
The Sabres looked sharp, but went to the dressing room still tied 0-0.
It was Miller’s time to shine in the second period, stopping Jagr from in-close on a New York power play and stoning Brendan Shanahan with a stellar pad save moments later.
The Sabres then buzzed and buzzed and buzzed for the rest of the second period, but couldn’t beat a rock solid Lundqvist. Afinogenov nearly squeezed one in after a dangerous rush and Briere almost fooled Lundqivst with a wrist shot, the puck dropping between the goalie’s legs, but not going in.
The Sabres outshot the Rangers 17-6 in the second period, but still found themselves tied.
Sabres forward Dainius Zubrus has been a thorn in Jagr’s side all series long, highlighted by a huge hip check on the Czech star in Game 2, and perhaps enough was enough because Jagr shoved then punched Zubrus near the end of the middle period, earning a roughing penalty.
The first half of the third period was a little more cautious on both sides. The Rangers thought they had opened the scoring at 12:14 when Michael Nylander beat Miller on a two-on-one, but the goal was waived off after Rangers winger Brad Isbister was called for goaltender interference on the play.
Notes: Forwards Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr and defenceman Thomas Pock were healthy scratches for the Rangers … Rookie Drew Stafford was the odd man out with the return of Gaustad. Forwards Daniel Paille and Andrew Peters and defenceman Nathan Paetsch were also scratched.