Buffalo Sabres

Rangers top Sabres in Winter Classic thriller

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Rangers top Sabres in Winter Classic thriller

NEW YORK -- J.T. Miller scored a power-play goal 2:43 into overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday in the NHL's 10th Winter Classic at Citi Field.

Paul Carey and Michael Grabner scored in the first period for the Rangers, who improved to 4-0 in regular season outdoor games. Henrik Lundqvist, who has been in goal for all four of the wins, stopped 31 shots to help New York improve to 6-2-3 in its last 11 overall.

Rasmus Ristolainen had a goal and an assist, Sam Reinhart also scored and Kyle Okposo had two assists for the Sabres. Robin Lehner finished with 39 saves for Buffalo, which has just 10 wins this season but is 4-3-5 in its last 12 games.

The Rangers went on the power play 2:15 into overtime when Jacob Josefson was whistled for tripping Jimmy Vesey. Miller scored the winner on a rebound in front off a shot by Kevin Shattenkirk.

The game, played at the home of baseball's New York Mets, was on the 10th anniversary of the Sabres' 2-1 shootout loss to Pittsburgh in Buffalo in the first Winter Classic. This was also the league's 24th regular season outdoor game.

Buffalo was 1 for 5 on the power play after coming in 30th in the NHL at 12.4 percent. The Rangers went 1 for 3 with the man advantage.

Lundqvist made a sensational save on an attempt by Zemgus Girgensons with 2:12 remaining to keep the score tied.

The national anthem was performed by a group of children born in 2008, the year of the first Winter Classic. The Goo Goo Dolls, a rock band that started in the Buffalo area, performed during the first intermission.

Despite the official temperature at puck drop at 20.5 degrees, the game drew a sellout crowd of 41,821.

There was a shadow across about half the ice lengthwise at the start of the game. Lehner in the Sabres' goal was in the shade and Lundquist was standing in the sun just beyond the shadow. By the middle of the opening period, the shadow was at least partially covering about two-thirds of the ice, with the team benches in sun on the side facing where home plate usually sits.

The playing surface was completely in the shade at the start of the second period, except for the side boards to Lehner's right on the first base side of the field.

The Sabres trailed 2-0 after one period before Reinhart cut the deficit in half in the opening minute of the second period. Lundqvist stopped a slap shot by Rasmus Ristolainen but Reinhart knocked in the rebound at 56 seconds.

Shortly before that, Lehner made a stellar stop on a short-handed breakaway by Grabner that would've given the Rangers a three-goal lead.

The Sabres tied it in the opening minute of the third. Ristolainen fired a wrist shot off a pass from Ryan O'Reilley for his second at 27 seconds.

To mark the 10th anniversary of their appearance in the Winter Classic, the Sabres gave up a home game to be in this one since the Rangers are contractually obligated to play all their home games at Madison Square Garden for a tax exemption.

New York got on the scoreboard first as Carey got a pass from Jesper Fast and fired it past Lehner from straightaway for his fifth of the season at 4:09.

Grabner made it 2-0 a little more than four minutes later. Marc Staal sent the puck of Lehner's back as he spun around and skated past the left side of the goal, and it came to Grabner at the right side and he put it in for his 18th at 8:20.

Brian Elliott's case for Flyers MVP

Brian Elliott's case for Flyers MVP

While it didn’t hit the most screeching of halts, the Flyers’ recent sleigh ride of success did a few road bumps this week before the clock struck Christmas Eve.

The six-game win streak is a thing of December past now and the Flyers hit the holiday break losers of three of four games this past week.

The streak was snapped Monday with a 4-1 defeat at the hand of the visiting Los Angeles Kings. The winning ways returned Wednesday with a hard-fought 4-3 at home over the Detroit Red Wings. Then is right back on the losing track Friday with a dud of a 4-2 loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. And then the week was capped with yet another loss in Columbus, this one a 2-1 decision in a shootout.

You might have some holiday cookies or some eggnog to get to, so let’s not wait any longer and hop right into this week’s Flyers observations.

• As we sit here at the holiday break, a popular exercise is to look back on the first three months of the season and try to name a Flyers MVP thus far.

Sean Couturier rightfully could be at the top of many observers’ lists with his team-leading 16 goals. Claude Giroux is back to his point-producing self with 13 goals and 29 assists for 42 points. Jake Voracek is tied for the NHL lead with 36 assists and leads the team with 44 points. And Ivan Provorov is an indispensable rock on the blue line. But my vote would go to netminder Brian Elliott.

Elliott has been a tremendous, steadying anchor for a Flyers team that has lost its way more than once this season. On the campaign, he’s 13-8-7 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average. But he’s been so much more than that. He’s given the Flyers chances to win almost every night in and night out. That’s all these Flyers could ask for and more with an offense that has struggled so mightily at times. Even during the brutal 10-game skid, Elliott was rock-solid in net.

But he proved his worth to the team again this week as he was solid against both L.A. and Detroit and superb against both Buffalo and Columbus in losing efforts. Thursday in Buffalo, he stopped 33 of 35 shots faced, many of which were supreme testers. Yes, he let a leaky one in, but that happens to every goalie every now and then. Against Columbus, his 11th straight start, no less, he took a hard-luck shootout loss with 35 saves on 36 shots faced. That’s all been a microcosm of what he’s done all season. He’s held the Flyers above water to be where they’re at as of Sunday, just four points out of a playoff spot.

• What an ugly effort Friday night in Buffalo. Save for the final five minutes of the second period and the late, two-goal flurry in the third, the Flyers were overmatched by a struggling Sabres club that entered the contest as the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Not even Elliott’s heroics in net could save the Flyers from a pitiful loss that saw the Sabres out-compete them at almost every turn, including a 1 for 5 power-play effort that doesn’t rightfully depict how bad it was.  

Look, bad losses are going to happen all throughout the season, but that one was just inexcusable. Those are games the good teams — *cough* the playoff teams *cough* — win. That kind of effort just isn’t going to work for these Flyers. They don’t have enough to get by like that.

• The loss in Buffalo left such a bad taste in Dave Hakstol’s mouth he decided to throw his lines into the proverbial blender and shake things up.

The biggest change saw Wayne Simmonds moved off the first line and 20-year-old Travis Konecny bumped up to that spot. It’s an intriguing move and one that is worth trying.

Despite recent success, the Flyers are still yearning for offense. And Konecny has oodles and oodles of offensive talent that’s just waiting to get unleashed. Playing alongside such skilled players as Couturier and Giroux can only help unleash that offensive firepower in the second-year winger.

Now, Konecny has found himself in Hakstol’s doghouse a time or two for his high-risk, turnover-increased style of play. But that’s where being alongside Couturier and Giroux can also help. Those two players are so defensively responsible that it can allow Konecny to have more offensive freedom to roam and therefore enhance his creativity.

He didn’t have shot on goal in Columbus, but Konecny was very noticeable on his new line. This is a big opportunity for him, and it’s up to him to capitalize on it.

• It was a week of ups and downs for rookie defenseman Robert Hagg.

On Wednesday, he ripped home his first NHL goal when he powered a slapper from above the circle through Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and then earned the Ric Flair victory robe from his teammates.

Things did not go as well Friday in Buffalo when Hagg, normally steady as can be, endured perhaps his worst game as a Flyer. He had an awful giveaway that led to a breakaway and eventually an Evander Kane penalty shot Elliott had to stop. Then he took a bad holding penalty on Zemgus Girgensons moments after. That all set the stage for a rough outing overall.

With as good as Hagg has played, it’s tough to remember sometimes that he’s a rookie. Games like Friday in Buffalo harsh reminders. But such is the life of a rookie in the NHL.

• You guys know who’s pretty good? That Sergei Bobrovsky guy, that's who. Sheesh.

Coming up this week: Thursday at Florida (7:30 p.m. on NBCSP), Friday at Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m. on NBCSP)

Flyers take too long to find power-play groove

Flyers take too long to find power-play groove

BOX SCORE

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A power-play surge helped the Flyers turn around their season and get back in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The special team's success didn’t continue into Friday night’s 4-2 loss in Buffalo, as the Flyers couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities until it was too late (see observations).

Michael Raffl managed to score a goal with 15 seconds remaining in the Flyers’ fifth power play of the game but not before the Flyers pulled goaltender Brian Elliott to gain a 6-on-4 advantage — nor before the Sabres had built a two-goal lead.

Philadelphia couldn’t convert with two extra skaters earlier in the third period, failing to put a shot on net during 40 seconds of a 5-on-3 opportunity within a 3:20 power play.

In 9:08 of total time with a man-advantage, the Flyers forced Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner to make just six saves before Raffl ended Lehner’s shutout bid with 2:10 remaining.

“You can narrow it down to power plays, you can narrow it down to a lot of things,” said Shayne Gostisbehere, who scored the Flyers' other goal with 32 seconds left in the game. “But I think our readiness as a team collectively wasn’t there tonight.”

Coach Dave Hakstol agreed that the power play outage was a symptom of a larger problem with the Flyers’ overall effort.

“We weren’t sharp enough, a lot like the rest of our game,” Hakstol said. “We didn’t make enough plays under pressure tonight, whether it was 5-on-5 or on the power play.”

In winning seven of eight heading into Friday night’s game, the Flyers had scored eight goals on 29 power play opportunities (27.5 percent). The string of victories brought the Flyers within three points of the idle New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference Wild Card spot.

After winning five of six on a homestand, the Flyers started a four-game road trip that consists of two back-to-backs with a four-day holiday break in between. They play in Columbus on Saturday night.

“We did some good things at home on the homestand,” Gostisbehere said. “But it’s one thing to win at home. You have to do it on the road too. You’re not going to be a playoff team if you can’t win on the road.”

The Flyers' scoring struggles squandered a solid outing from Elliott, who made 28 of his 33 saves through the first two scoreless periods.

“(Elliott) gave us every chance possible to win that game and just to be in that game was pretty lucky,” Gostisbehere said. “He stood on his head and made some great saves. But I don’t think we are going to win too many games playing like that.”

The Flyers did kill off both of their penalties and have allowed two or fewer power play chances in nine of their last 10 games. They put two shots on goal while playing shorthanded.

Despite being on the power play for an additional five minutes, the Flyers were out-shot 37-35 by the Sabres. Shot attempts were even at 58 each. The Flyers had 14 shots blocked and missed the net on nine shots, including a one-timer from Jake Voracek in the third period that was the Flyers best power play scoring chance. Voracek assisted on both of the Flyers’ late goals to bring his league-leading tally to 36.

“We had a good push there at the end but we have to get that push earlier than we had it,” said Claude Giroux, who also had two assists. “It’s frustrating but at the same time we have to put this behind us and be ready for tomorrow.”