With the spotlight squarely on the two teams ahead of them in the Atlantic Division, the New York Rangers’ recent run has finally earned them some attention from the rest of the Eastern Conference.
They’ve had the attention of the Buffalo Sabres all season.
The Rangers head upstate on Monday night, looking to sweep the season series from the Sabres while trying to earn at least a point in their 13th straight game.
New York (36-24-9) has been behind Pittsburgh and New Jersey in the Atlantic standings since early January, but while those two have continued to play well, neither has been as good as the Rangers’ 9-0-3 stretch over the last 12 games
They moved within four points of the Penguins and five of the division-leading Devils on Sunday, earning a 1-0 shootout win over Boston, which had beaten New York twice previously in shootouts.
“It was fun to play and it felt really good to finally beat them in a shootout,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who tied Columbus’ Pascal Leclaire for the league lead with his ninth shutout. “It was a big statement for us to beat this team.”
Just four weeks remain in the regular season, but the Rangers will have opportunities to climb to the top of the division, which they haven’t won since 1993-94 - the last time they won the Stanley Cup. They face Pittsburgh and New Jersey three more times each.
New York has faced Buffalo (32-27-10) three times this season, and have won each time. Two of those have come during the 12-game point streak - 5-1 at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 16 and a come-from-behind 4-3 road victory a week later.
New York is in the bottom-third of the league in goals per game (2.57), but has played its best offensive hockey since the win against Buffalo on Feb. 16. Including that game, the Rangers are averaging 3.8 goals in their last 10.
Chris Drury, who played three seasons in Buffalo before signing with New York as a free agent last summer, has four goals and four assists in that span. Tied with Brendan Shanahan for the team lead with 22 goals, Drury has two assists against his former team.
Sean Avery, who has eight goals in his last 11 games, had three goals and an assist against the Sabres this season.
Along with the improved offense, Lundqvist has been excellent recently. He’s 4-0-1 with a 1.64 goals-against average in his last five starts. He’s been in goal for all three wins against Buffalo, posting a 1.67 GAA.
The Sabres are four points behind Philadelphia for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. They fell to 1-3-1 in their last five games on Saturday, coming back from an early 2-0 deficit but ultimately falling 4-3 in overtime at Carolina.
“It’s good that we got a point and battled back and showed character, but on the other hand, we needed two points,” said Derek Roy, who had a goal and an assist. “We can’t wait until the last five games to start playing. We’ve got to do it now.”
Roy, the team’s second-leading scorer with 61 points, has six goals and seven assists in his last 10 games. Right wing Jason Pominville, who has 63 points, has six goals and five assists over the same stretch.
Pominville has two goals and Roy three assists this season against the Rangers.
Buffalo’s problem lately has been giving its goaltending. Ryan Miller is 30-23-8 with a 2.54 GAA this season, but since giving up four goals to New York on Feb. 23, is 2-4-2 with a 3.53 GAA.