The New York Rangers' grasp on a playoff spot is officially on life support after Tuesday night's 3-2 loss at home against the Buffalo Sabres. The Rangers are now below .500 at home, with a 14-15-3 record. Though they're still in ninth place, the Sabres' victory puts them three points behind the Rangers for seventh place -- and Buffalo has three games in hand. The Hurricanes, who also won, are now just a point behind New York for seventh place, and they've played one fewer game.
Overall, the game was very similar to the last loss against the Tampa Bay Lighting -- and frankly, most of their losses over the past few games: play well enough to win but fail to find the back of the net enough times to make that effort feel rewarded. Plus, just like last game, iffy penalty calls against the Rangers, and several instances where penalties should've been called in their favor add to the frustration.
Even though the Rangers had to play catch up after Tyler Myers' shot on the power play deflected off of Dan Girardi and into the net, the first period and first half of the game was plain boring hockey. Both teams were trying to see the other team crack and then take advantage of a mistake instead of being real assertive.
Thirteen minutes into the second period the Sabres scored their second power-play goal -- by the team's newest member, Brad Boyes -- but it still didn't feel like this game was out of the Rangers' reach. Then, New York received its own power play chance, and Erik Christensen buried a wrister to cut the lead in half.
Jochen Hecht would score 4:45 into the third and the Rangers suddenly kicked it into high gear for the remainder of the period. During an offensive fury which led to a scrum in front, Artem Anisimov found the loose puck and snapped a shot past Ryan Miller to make the Rangers' deficit 3-2.
Miller then took the game over, robbing Mats Zuccarello a half-dozen times -- one of his shots trickled through Miller's five-hole and was on its way in but he flung his glove-hand behind his back and barely swiped it out -- and basically putting the Sabres on his back for the victory. After being outshot, 9-5, in the first period, the Rangers would outshoot the Sabres 26-17 the rest of the way, but it didn't matter.
Despite six shots on goal by Bryan McCabe (all during the second period), a gutsy performance by the best player for the Rangers, Ryan Callahan (five shots), Zuccarello's constant opportunities in the second half of the game and Ryan McDonagh's superb defensive performance (led the team with 24:44 ice time), the Rangers could just not get the job done and their current playoff hopes are waning.
New York will not fall out of the race by Thursday, but Thursday's game against Minnesota will be yet another must-win affair if they want to be included in the top eight of the Eastern Conference.