The New York Rangers have seen some big improvements in their offense in the last two weeks, but their grasp on an Eastern Conference playoff spot remains tenuous.
New York looks for its third straight win, and its first over the Buffalo Sabres this season, when the teams meet Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Since a 2-8-4 stretch from Jan. 28-Feb. 26 in which they averaged 1.6 goals, the Rangers (37-26-8) have won six of eight, averaging 3.5 goals during the hot streak which has moved them into seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Their hold on that playoff spot is far from secure. New York is one point behind sixth-place Carolina, but also only two ahead of ninth-place Florida.
The Rangers earned their second straight win Thursday, 4-3 in a shootout at Montreal. Chris Drury scored the game-winner in the third round of the tiebreaker, and Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves through overtime.
The Rangers persevered for the victory after the Canadiens had tied the game in the final five minutes of regulation.
“When they tied the game up, there was no panic,” New York coach John Tortorella said. “I think that’s what you look for in a club - especially this time of year - is when you get up, don’t get too excited, and when something bad happens or a goal is scored again, whatever it may be, just try to keep it on an even keel.”
The Rangers now return home for their next three games - all against teams that don’t currently hold playoff spots. They’ve won three in a row at MSG, outscoring those opponents 14-5 at MSG.
Scott Gomez has four goals and four assists during a six-game point streak at home.
Now, Gomez and the Rangers are looking for their first win against the Sabres (34-29-8) this season. New York has scored only four total goals while going 0-2-1 versus Buffalo, including a 3-1 loss at MSG on Oct. 15.
The Sabres, though, are struggling these days. They suffered their third straight loss Friday, falling 6-4 at home to the Philadelphia Flyers. Buffalo led 3-2 in the second period, but gave up four unanswered goals.
“We have to keep the effort and keep working at it,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We didn’t score on our chances and they scored on theirs. That was probably a big turning point for them.”
The Sabres have dropped five of their last six games, dropping into 10th place in the East - five points behind the Canadiens for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“It’s going to be tough,” Buffalo captain Craig Rivet said. “We’re here to battle and we’re going to do everything we can. We’re not going to quit.”
Derek Roy, who has two goals and three assists against the Rangers this season, scored Friday to give him two goals and two assists in the last four games.