NEW YORK — Alexis Lafreniere scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, and the New York Rangers beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Tuesday night.
Mika Zibanejad and Brendan Smith also scored and Igor Shesterkin made 36 saves as New York improved to 9-2-0 in its last 11 home games. Ryan Strome added two assists.
Sam Reinhart scored and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 38 saves for Buffalo, which has lost three of four.
Midway through the third period, Strome’s aggressive forecheck created a turnover behind Buffalo’s net, which led to Lafreniere’s 10th goal of his rookie season. The sequence started after New York defenceman Ryan Lindgren aided Shesterkin to keep the game tied at 1.
“He did a great job calling for the pass,” Strome said of Lafreniere. “I heard him so when I spun, I saw him. Great shot by him. He’s elevated his game. You can see the confidence. I mean, realistically he would only be about halfway through his first NHL season. He’s picked up his game significantly.”
Zibanejad doubled New York’s advantage with a power-play goal at 13:49. The Rangers hit two posts during a 5-on-3 advantage but eventually cashed in when Chris Kreider set up the Swedish centre with a cross-ice backhand pass. It was Zibanejad’s 20th goal of the season — the fourth time he has reached that milestone with the Rangers and sixth overall.
The Rangers have won seven of nine and trail the Boston Bruins by four points for the final playoff spot in the East Division.
“The old sports cliche — we just have to have be ready to win hockey game on Thursday,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “That’s all we can manage, that’s all we can focus on, that’s all that matters. We are still playing meaningful hockey; we have a chance.”
Reinhart made it 1-1 in the final seconds of the second period with a one-time blast from the slot on the power play. Reinhart is tied for the NHL lead with 14 goals on the road this season.
Buffalo’s alternate captain has five goals in the team’s previous three games and has recorded 14 points in the 15 games Buffalo has played in April.
“We did a good job creating chances, we definitely could have limited a few more for them,” Sabres forward Casey Mittelstadt said. “We created chances and the goalie played well. There are sometimes where you we got to bear down and finish some of those. I guess that’s a positive, you always want to be creating chances.”
Smith opened the scoring early in the second period with a powerful slap shot just inside the blue line. Dylan Cozens failed to clear the puck from the Sabres defensive zone and Smith hammered the loose puck past Luukkonen at 2:22.
“We know what the scoreboard is saying but it ultimately lies with us,” Smith said. “We kind of hold our own fate. If you look too far in the future it looks like an impossible task, but if you take them day by day, game by game, it’s more manageable and that’s what we’ve been talking about.”
Luukkonen made his NHL debut and recorded his first career victory with a 36-save performance against the Boston Bruins last week. The Sabres selected the 22-year-old goaltender in the second round of the 2017 draft.
“I liked his confidence tonight,” Sabres interim coach Don Granato said. “His body language was very good, he was into it. That was really nice to see, that’s a big one, that’s everything to be confident.”
Buffalo will miss the playoffs for a 10th straight season, tied for an NHL record. The Sabres set a shootout-era record of 18 games without a victory (0-15-3) from February 25 to March 29, ending any hope of reaching the post-season.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
The Rangers have outscored opponents 54-25 over their last 11 home games. New York has earned a point in 11 of its last 13 at home (10-2-1).
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
The Blueshirts are the only team that has five players (Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and Ryan Strome) who have recorded at least 44 points in 2020-21. No other team has more than three. New York is also the only team that has four players with 17 or more goals.
The Rangers are in the midst of a 17-game stretch in which they solely play in the New York area. It began April 6 and will end May 6 when the Rangers travel to Boston.
Rangers: Visit the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
Sabres: Visit the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.
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