“Shuffle Off To Buffalo” is the unofficial anthem for those who favor Western New York’s famed city.
As for the Rangers, their shuffle up to First Niagara Center last night was a tourist’s delight in many ways.
For starters, it dispatched the New Yorkers’ cobwebs left over from the All-Star Break. All hands were on their game from defenders to attackers.
Then, there was the matter of getting Henrik Lundqvist back in the groove following his early exit against Columbus last Tuesday at The Garden.
With Antti Raanta back in The Big Apple, the Blueshirts imported Magnus Hellberg as The King’s back-up. No need for any back-up on this night. The King’s overtime save — among other pyrotechnics between the pipes — preserved the win.
“I battled hard,” said Lundqvist. “It was a fun game and their goalie was good, too. I was confident. My guys took care of the middle of the ice. Buffalo played hard and have the skill.”
Coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t disagree.
“This was a great game; great goaltending and two teams playing extremely hard and for us, it turned out well,” said Vigneault.
And for finishers, Vigneault’s challenge continues to be melding a solid blend of offense-defense and solid goaltending into another winning combo. This ultimately was underlined by the 2-1 overtime victory on Chris Kreider’s 20th goal.
The coach will get another opportunity to cement that style on Sunday afternoon when the Flames visit The Garden.
OVERVIEW: Heading toward the schedule’s three-quarter pole, the Blueshirts are seeking stability more than anything at the moment. A hard-driving, playoff-seeking club, the Sabres produced a good test and the New Yorkers did what it took to gain the W.
Nothing was more crucial than a comeback performance by King Henrik. Not to mention a second period power play goal by Mats (Call Me Magical) Zuccarello and the Kreider game-winner just after a Blueshirt power play with 1:01 left in the extra session.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
1. DEE-FENSE GETS AN “A”: You can’t ask for much more than limiting the Sabres to one goal in Buffalo. The defenders and offense gave Lundqvist enough help and Henny did the rest.
2. HENCEFORTH HENRIK: The King conquered and now the hope is that henceforth he’ll continue the nearly-hermetically-sealed crease play that produced the terrific two-pointer up in Snow Country. Lundqvist’s roller coaster play will continue to demand attention, but this is another start on his move to Comeback Country.
3. MATS MATTERS: The Mighty Mite set the stage with a second period goal that at least provided a cushion so that when Buffalo tied the count, the Rangers still were in a position to win. As usual, Zuccarello was an all-over-the-ice threat.
4. HIGH-OCTANE OFFENSE: Despite the low score, the Blueshirts diverse offense continues to keep opponents at bay. Michael Grabner was a one-man breakaway city; almost winning the game in OT on one of his specialty sprints. Rick Nash also was a constant threat.
5. SPECIAL TEAMS SPECIAL: The power play produced the first goal and was just completed on the winner. In both cases, PP was A-1. The penalty-killers went three-for-three against the fifth best power play in the league.
SAVE OF THE GAME: Late in the third period, Lundqvist moved from left to right, robbing Kyle Okposo.
TURNING POINT: The King starts the winning goal moving the puck up from the Rangers zone after which the offense finished the job.
WHAT THEY SAID
1. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST JOE MICHELETTI: “Lundqvist was so good right from the start — with 13 saves in the third period. His first big save gave him confidence and he took his game from there.”
2. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST STEVE VALIQUETTE: “This was Henrik’s best game of the season. He was fighting, battling for sight-lines. Very aggressive. He was the story line.”
3. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST RON DUGUAY: “J.T. Miller made a heads up play to set up Kreider’s winning goal.”
4. CHRIS KREIDER: “I wasn’t thinking when I shot. Maybe if I did I might have missed it.”
5. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST DAVE MALONEY: “Henrik was as good as the guys in front of him; and the guys in front of him were good.”
6. J.T. MILLER: “Our response was a good 60 minutes (after the Columbus loss). We made the plays we had to and were physical.”
7. MAVEN REPORTER SAM STERN: “The keys: Henrik bounced back in a big way and the club once again found a way to win in a tightly-contested match.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Rangers host Calgary on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. Live pre-game show on MSG Networks at 1:30 p.m.
BOTTOM LINE: Resiliency has been part of the woof and warp of the Rangers make-up all season. The bounce-back win was merely one of many. Perhaps the best is yet to come.