Miller’s overtime goal wins it for Rangers over improved Sabres, Lafreniere two points, Vatrano two goals, Strome leaves game with injury, Fox Iso Cam a nightmare

A win is a win. It sure wasn’t a Picasso or Renoir. The Rangers will take the two points and move on. In what can best be summarized as an inconsistent effort, K’Andre Miller rescued them with an overtime goal at 2:02 to help the Rangers edge the improved Sabres 5-4 at MSG.

After breaking up a play, Miller was on the receiving end of an Alexis Lafreniere pass that he then buried past losing Sabres’ netminder Craig Anderson at 2:02 of overtime. His career high sixth goal gave them a second straight win. The celly wasn’t bad either.

The biggest takeaway is the continued improvement from both Miller and Lafreniere. Each had strong games. The Rangers don’t win without them. Both are blossoming before our eyes. It’s nice to see.

Lafreniere also scored his career high 15th goal. All have come at even strength. With a goal and primary assist that set up Miller’s game-winner, that makes it a six-game point streak. The 2020 top pick is up to two goals and five assists during the best stretch of his young career.

In two games since being shifted back to the left wing on the third line with Filip Chytil, he has two goals and a helper. Though the latter came during three-on-three hockey tonight. He has had the same positive approach and attitude no matter where Gerard Gallant sticks him.

The game couldn’t have started any better. Well aware (at least early on) that the Sabres have been playing better, the Blueshirts got the early jump on their opponent. Frank Vatrano scored twice in only 18 seconds to put them up by a pair.

The former Panther has looked good. Since being put on the top line, he’s scored three goals in two games. Vatrano got the first tally off a Chris Kreider feed at 3:59 for his 13th. He wasn’t done.

Off a Tage Thompson turnover, Vatrano broke in and beat Anderson for an unassisted goal at 4:17. The two goals were the second fastest scored by a Ranger since Jaromir Jagr got two in only a 14-second span. So far, so good for Frankie V. He’s up to four goals in six games as a Ranger.

It could’ve been more than two goals. Tyler Motte came close on a breakaway to increasing it to three. Anderson made a big save to deny him of his first goal as a Blueshirt.

Moments later, Ryan Strome hit the post after Artemi Panarin made a drop pass. That close. Mika Zibanejad also missed an open net prior. So, they could’ve been up by four or five. Instead, the Sabres only trailed by two despite a poor start.

The second part of the first period was sluggish. Instead of continuing to pound Buffalo on the forecheck, the Blueshirts started making mistakes. Sloppy turnovers became an issue. It was similar to the Devil game.

Another unnecessary distraction was MSG Network deciding that we needed an Adam Fox Iso cam. Every time they showed him for a shift, you had to try to focus extra hard on the game.

It was brutal. Nobody needs Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti to gloss over Fox. It took away from the broadcast. Ironically, he didn’t have a good game. Throw the Iso cam away.

With the Sabres able to regain momentum from a lack of Ranger shots, they finally made it a game. With under two minutes to go in the period, Rasmus Asplund was left alone in the slot to beat Alex Georgiev. Unsurprisingly, it was his first goal in 46 games. Slump busters. Some things never change.

Instead of taking a commanding three or four goal lead to the locker room, the Rangers led by only one. Shots were 7-5 in favor of the home side. By then, the game had changed.

After briefly flipping over to see Saint Peter’s getting blown out by North Carolina in the Elite Eight, I switched back in time for the second period. Only Arthur Staple noticed that Strome was missing from the bench.

Sam and Joe were busy talking to the viewers as if they’d never watched a Ranger game before. “Did you know that Adam Fox is related to Bobby Orr? No, I didn’t.” That didn’t happen. It may well as have. Mind numbing.

As the second period began, it was the Sabres who got the game tied up in quick fashion. On a long shift in which they moved the puck around, Peyton Krebs found Will Butcher for a wrist shot that beat Georgiev. A player who doesn’t regularly play got his second. Here’s how it looked.

Then, while the ever annoying Fox Iso crap was on, Kyle Okposo undressed him and beat Georgiev through the wickets to make it three consecutive Buffalo goals. Of course, Micheletti pinned it on Georgiev. He should’ve had it. But God forbid they pay attention and notice how poor Fox was letting Okposo skate through untouched.

After the Okposo goal, the “fans” gave Georgiev a Bronx cheer for making a save. Screw them! People who do that are losers. Did they not see Georgiev’s 44 save masterpiece a week ago at Carolina? I’ve had enough of these fairweather fans. Get off the bandwagon. Jump overboard.

Eventually, the Rangers settled down. As pitiful as the first part of the second was, they finally started playing hockey. Lafreniere got the first good opportunity when he fired a tough shot that Anderson denied. He would get the better of the veteran later.

On a good play through the neutral zone started by Jonny Brodzinski, he moved the puck for Chytil, who entered the Sabre zone on a two-on-one. He got the puck over to a cutting Lafreniere, who went forehand, backhand deke to beat Anderson for number 15 at 11:46. A pretty goal by Laffy.

Following a dubious bench minor on Buffalo, the Rangers came close on the power play. But Kreider couldn’t quite put in a loose puck in front. Anderson followed it up with a stop on Fox.

High energy guy Tyler Motte then had an interesting shift. After absorbing a clean hit by Casey Fitzgerald, he got right back up and had a scoring chance. Anderson made a good save on Motte, who continues to play a simple game. He’ll get one soon.

Having not done much in the second part of the period, the Sabres were able to get three scoring opportunities due to a couple of sloppy turnovers by Kreider and Zibanejad. It was a lazy shift. They had three chances to clear the puck and didn’t. That typified the game.

As the second wound down, Chytil fed Motte for another chance. But it was broken up. The Blueshirts remained tied at three after two.

Early in the third, Andrew Copp made another good play to set up a Panarin goal. Off a face-off, he retrieved the puck and passed it up top for Jacob Trouba. Trouba let go of a hard, low shot that Anderson couldn’t control. That allowed Panarin to deposit the loose change in for his 17th at 3:52.

In his first three games, Copp has five points (1-4-5). The former Winnipeg Jet is playing well thus far since coming over last week. He’s winning draws, in on the forecheck and producing. He along with Barclay Goodrow helped offset the loss of Strome.

With less than eight minutes left in regulation, Patrik Nemeth went off for hi-sticking Zemgus Girgensons. The Rangers have been giving up power play goals lately. Too many.

The Sabres converted their only chance when Jeff Skinner rebounded home a Rasmus Dahlin stuff in try with token resistance. It was way too easy. Dahlin was allowed to move in unchecked. Nobody took Skinner. That’s seven of the last eight games the penalty kill has allowed a PPG.

The sad aspect is the Sabres only had two shots the entire period. The Rangers outshot Buffalo 10-2. But they were unable to get a second one past Anderson, who got the Sabres a point.

In three-on-three overtime, Buffalo had possession early on. After a bad pass back into his end for a turnover, a hustling Panarin came back defensively to take away the puck. That play helped the Rangers regain momentum.

On a good defensive read from Miller, he moved the puck over to Copp. Ahead of the play was Lafreniere. Copp’s pass wasn’t the best. But Lafreniere handled it and then had enough patience to find the trailer Miller for the overtime winner. An absolute snipe high blocker at 2:02.

It was Miller time at The Garden. Only this time, it was K’Andre Miller doing the celebrating and cool celly. Well deserved. He has played much better hockey. Lafreniere to Miller could become a good combo.

Undoubtedly, they won without playing their best hockey. Coupled with the Pens’ 11-2 blowout of the Red Wings highlighted by a Evgeni Malkin hat trick, they remained a point out of second place. They do have a game at hand.

Tuesday is another showdown in Pittsburgh. It’s the third of four meetings with the first round looking very likely. Needless to say, these games are big. They split the first two. We know what just happened on Friday. A 5-1 win on home ice.

Go there and get the ‘W.’ They’ll need a better effort. Igor Shesterkin will be back in for that one. It’s all about how they play. This new lineup gives Gallant flexibility. If Strome can’t go, he has enough options.

That’ll do it for this post. Follow us on BattleOfHudson via Twitter. See you soon.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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