Video: Sabres Rangers Game Tying Goal. Watch the video below.
For a while, the Rangers’ locker room stayed nearly empty, except for goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was encircled by reporters and photographers. He was talking quietly, a blank look on his face, describing the Rangers’ stunning loss to Buffalo on Friday night.
Eventually, his teammates wordlessly filed into the room around him, the sound of the shower in the background making the loudest noise. Most of their name tags had already been taken down from their lockers at HSBC Arena.
What appeared to be a sure victory slipped away with only 7.7 seconds left in regulation on a goal by Chris Drury, and turned into a 2-1 loss in overtime on a power-play goal by Maxim Afinogenov. The Rangers were shoved to the brink of elimination in their Eastern Conference semifinal series in the most painful way. They trail in the best-of-seven series, 3-2.
The turn of events came so swiftly, after Lundqvist had held off the hard-charging Sabres for so long. It seemed to take the air out of the Rangers’ locker room, if not their season.
“It’s a tough one,” Lundqvist said. “They made a good play at the end and it paid off. You can’t think too much about this. You have to move on.”
The Rangers’ challenge now is to win Game 6 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden in order to force Game 7 back here Tuesday.
All series, Jaromir Jagr warned how momentum could change so quickly, how a series could turn on a single shot. He was speaking from 15 years of playoff experience. He did not know how prophetic his words would prove.
“That hurts,” he said. “That’s probably the toughest for me in five years.”
Despite being outplayed for most of the game, the Rangers had held Buffalo scoreless for 59 minutes. Lundqvist turned away chance after chance, stopping the Sabres’ first 36 shots. The Rangers scored their unlikely go-ahead goal on a wrist shot by center Martin Straka with 3 minutes 19 seconds left in the third period. They were trying to hold that edge.
In the last scrambling minute, the Rangers iced the puck with 12.8 seconds left, then lost the face-off in their zone. The Sabres turned that into the tying goal when Drury collected the rebound of a shot by Thomas Vanek and fired the puck from an angle to Lundqvist’s right.
“The puck can find him,” Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff said of Drury, who has made a career of clutch play. “He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He doesn’t miss many of those opportunities.”
Drury’s goal sent the Rangers into the locker room deflated. They found themselves fighting off the deep disappointment, trying to concentrate on overtime. Meanwhile, Afinogenov said, the Sabres’ locker room “was pumped up.”
The Rangers earned a power play early in overtime when Drury was called for hooking, but they did nothing with it. Then they faced a Sabres power play when center Blair Betts was called for hooking.
Afinogenov fired a shot 4:39 into the overtime from just inside the Sabres’ blue line. It bounced off Rangers forward Jed Ortmeyer’s stick and into the net, going between Lundqvist’s pads.
Ortmeyer said he apologized to Lundqvist.
“It’s hockey,” Ortmeyer said. “It’s bad bounces here and there. Obviously to have that happen, it’s tough. It was just a reaction, get my stick in the lane, trying to tip it out.”
Afinogenov had been struggling offensively; he was benched for Game 4 after ineffective play in the first three games. After the Sabres were held to one goal each in Games 3 and 4 in New York, they were desperate to get things going.
“I was just trying to do my part, to skate, create scoring chances for the guys and myself,” Afinogenov said.
Eventually it worked, but it took the entire game. The Sabres threw everything they could at Lundqvist. Center Daniel Brière peppered him with nine shots and Tim Connelly added seven. Afinogenov took five. The Sabres outshot the Rangers, 40-23. But Buffalo could get nothing past Lundqvist until the very end, when it hurt the Rangers most.
“It’s a tough loss,” Rangers Coach Tom Renney said. “We weren’t close to the better team on the ice today. We won’t try to hide behind any excuses. It was close for one reason, and that was our goalie.”
Renney’s biggest disappointment was that the Rangers seemed to have spent the game trying to stave off disaster instead of trying to win. It worked for most of the game, but not long enough.
Now they come home to save their season again, something they had to do late in the regular season just to make the playoffs. They did it in this series after Buffalo had taken a two-games-to-none lead.
They are hoping to reach for that magic again.
“There’s no time to sulk about it,” forward Brendan Shanahan said. “Our team is pretty good about bouncing back the last couple of months. This will be a test for us.”
But Buffalo had a test, too, losing two in a row and trailing in the final seconds of this game.
“It’s not easy to overcome,” Jagr said. “We were so close. We have to somehow forget about it.”
Hockey is a family of sports in which two teams play against each other by trying to maneuver a ball or a puck into the opponent's goal using a hockey stick. In many areas, one sport (typically field hockey or ice hockey is generally referred to simply as hockey.