Who was that team out there today?!?!?!?!?! Whoever they were, it looked like a much different Ranger team after a five day layoff. From the drop of the puck in a game they had to have, the Blueshirts dominated the Sabres by scoring four times in the opening stanza en route to a 5-1 blowout victory in front of a younger Saturday afternoon crowd who enjoyed every second of what they saw.
How fun was it? Well, they scored on the opening shift only 10 seconds in when Sean Avery pounced on a Brandon Dubinsky rebound for the first of two goals on what was a very productive day for Tom Renney's reconstructed lines as fellow blogger Lenny reported.
Before Ryan Callahan rebounded home a Marty Straka shot in front off a nifty Chris Drury setup for the team's second tally 4:19 later, newly re-signed No.1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist stood tall making a couple of critical stops on Sabres in close to preserve the lead. That was vital, especially against a hot team which hadn't lost in regulation the past 10 contests (8-0-2).
With the team backchecking efficiently and playing much more aggressive north/south hockey, they pounced on a flat Buffalo club which wasn't ready to play despite their recent hot streak which had them all the way to seventh in the East a point ahead of the Rangers.
Straka hit a career milestone by recording his 700th NHL point with an assist on Callahan's third. The goal was made possible by a great read from former Sabre Drury, who made a brilliant pass to a wide open No.82, whose shot went off Ryan Miller right to Cally who deposited it.
The brilliant period continued when the game's First Star Dubinsky abused a Buffalo defender skating around them before putting a backhand thru Miller's five-hole for a three-goal lead at 9:05 from Jaromir Jagr. Before today's game, No.68 had gone seven consecutive games without a point. Today, he was more active notching two helpers.
There's little doubt that Miller wasn't sharp and should've had Dubinsky's 10th. It was from an awful angle. Even if the 21 year-old rookie out of Anchorage, Alaska made a nice move to beat Buffalo defenders, it was still one the Buffalo netminder usually saves in his sleep.
He was brutal and also could've had one of the first two as well as Brendan Shanahan's right wing 40-foot slapper 3:20 later which concluded his day between the pipes. Miller allowed four goals on 11 shots before veteran backup Joceyln Thibault replaced him.
By that time, even Dancin' Larry had done his idiotic dance routine. The fat lady sung a little earlier than expected. Avery would add his second of the game in the second using his great speed to blow past Sabres before beating Thibault on a mini-break for his eighth at 7:47.
The only remaining question was whether King Henrik would pickup an eighth shutout. However, it wasn't to be as Thomas Vanek spoiled the party by beating him five-hole from in the slot for a power play goal with 6:58 left in the game.
Lundqvist still was rock solid in stopping 29 of 30 shots to give the Blueshirts a much needed 'W,' temporarily pulling back in front of Buffalo and Boston for the seventh seed. Amazingly, the 65 points also ties them with the Flyers, who have three more games at hand.
It really is going to depend on who plays well down the stretch. That means no mishaps. This team can't afford to be inconsistent or mail in games. And it's very important to follow this impressive win with another against Western foe San Jose.
As you might know by now, the Rangers are 0-7-2 against the opposite conference this season. This is their last opportunity to get two points against it.
It's about time they did.