Rapid Reaction: Sabres 3, Rangers 2

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The Rangers started slow and their timing just seemed a split second off all night long as they fell to the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, at the Garden Tuesday night. The loss burns all the more as the Sabres are now within three points of the Blueshirts in the Eastern Conference standings. Here’s how it all went down.

What It Means

This loss is a prime example of the fine line the Rangers will walk through the remainder of this season. Not only are the Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes (one point back after beating Florida Tuesday) in hot pursuit, but Tuesday’s game demonstrated that New York has little buffer when it comes to winning hockey games. Make a bad read, take a bad penalty, give up a bad goal -- those are all things the Rangers can’t afford to do from here on out. They did them all Tuesday and they once again showed they just don’t have the firepower to constantly come back from deficits.

A Case Of Close But Not Quite

Had their best play not repeatedly followed a bad mental lapse, the Rangers probably would have won Tuesday. The same could be said if a stellar Ryan Miller (29 saves) wasn’t in net for the Sabres. But New York simply looked a little off early and never really found any consistent footing, particularly against a star stopper on top of his game.

First Is The Worst

Errant D to D passes at Buffalo blue line, failure to convert chances in the slot -- New York just seemed slightly out of sync. Perhaps most disheartening was that the Sabres seemed equally flat and the Rangers failed to take advantage of it.

“I don’t know if we were flat, but we didn’t get out on the forecheck and establish ourselves,” Rangers winger Ryan Callahan said. “I feel like our first period was mediocre. We weren’t bad, but we weren’t how we want to be in our home rink to start the game.”

Brian Boyle meanwhile said he has no idea why the Rangers can’t seem to capitalize on home ice, where they have a losing record of 14-15-3.

“I don’t know. I really, don’t,” Boyle said. “I just know we needed some more offense tonight.”

You Could See It Coming

In the first period, the Sabres were getting a lot of traffic to the net and the shots that reached G Henrik Lundqvist seemed pretty hard to handle. And after a Michael Sauer penalty gave the Sabres their first power play of the game, the combo of both bodies and shots earned the Sabres the first goal. A long wrister from D Tyler Myers threaded its way through the Rangers penalty killers and between Lundqvist’s pads after striking Dan Girardi’s stick (according to John Tortorella). Lundqvist griped briefly that he was interfered with on the play, and from the press box it certainly looked like Vanek might have made contact with the Rangers keeper prior to touching the puck, but the refs allowed the goal to stand and the Bat Phone to Toronto remained silent.

Free Firin’ Bryan

Rangers fans, whose vocabulary is usually -- and often correctly -- reduced to the word “shoot!” during Blueshirt power plays, might have a new favorite player. On New York’s first power play of the night, a pair of faceoff wins immediately led to two slap shots from the newly acquired Bryan McCabe. It was a recurring theme throughout the night. Just my amateur assessment, but the first minute of that power play looked far better than this unit has all season long. Ryan Callahan noticed the difference as well.

“He’s definitely a threat to shoot the puck and you can see that teams respect him,” Callahan said. “That gives some other guys some room and when he does get the puck through it’s hard to stop.”

McCabe put six shots on goal and finished with 23:32 of ice-time, 4:27 of that on the power play. He notched his first point as a Ranger with a PP assist to Erik Christensen, who had all sorts of space after McCabe drew defenders towards the middle of the ice.

Discipline Deficit

Wojtek Wolski went to the box for boarding a Buffalo player in the offensive zone about 100 seconds into the second, which riled up the frustrated Garden crowd, but the Rangers escaped unscathed. However, an absolutely mindless tripping penalty in the offensive zone -- as he chased a Buffalo puck carrier back up ice -- cost them in the middle of the second. Not only did it halt the Rangers’ best sequence of the game, it led to a second Sabres goal, a tap-in from newly acquired Brad Boyes.

What’s Next?

The Rangers stay home to face another team desperate for points, the Minnesota Wild, Thursday. Between now and then, expect the Blueshirt blue line to get a little attention at practice. Tortorella said he thought the Sabres goals were largely a factor of defensemen pushing out too far and allowing forwards to hover around the Rangers crease.

“The second goal, our defensemen needed to get to their guys, who had gotten behind them,” Tortorella said. “The third goal we had a breakdown at the point and our D left there too.”

With the Sabres holding three games in hand over the Rangers and the Canes with one as well, the points in Thursday's contest could be absolutely crucial.