Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Jagr Shootout Goal Lifts Rangers Over Sabres

Jaromir Jagr's shootout winner allowed the Rangers to pick up two points in a 3-2 win at Buffalo (11-9-1) Tuesday night at HSBC Arena. It was the team's third straight win and improved them to 14-7-3 heading into a Thanksgiving match with Atlanta (8-11-2).

In an unconventional finish, Michael Nylander and Jagr beat Martin Biron, who replaced a hobbled Mika Noronen after Martin Straka scored on the first shot. Daniel Briere and Ales Kotalik beat Kevin Weekes on dekes to the glove side. With it tied at two, Jagr- who was 0-for-3 including a broken stick against the Isles' Rick DiPietro- went to his patented forehand deke and beat Biron to put the pressure on Chris Drury. When Weekes closed the five-hole on Drury, New York won in Buffalo for the first time since 2002. It also improved them to 3-1 in shootouts.

On a night when Buffalo retired former captain Danny Gare's number 18 in a pregame ceremony, the Rangers were under siege against an inspired Sabres club seeking its fourth consecutive win. Despite having the game's first four power plays, New York generated very little. Both Weekes and Noronen were sharp in keeping the contest scoreless through the first. Weekes was tested right away by Ales Kotalik and Tim Connolly while Noronen was helped by two right posts hit by Jagr, who earlier this season drew iron a few times in a 3-1 defeat at Buffalo.

The game remained scoreless until the Sabres' fourth ranked power play capitalized on a full two minute five-on-three. With Tom Poti and Ville Nieminen in the box, after some stellar penalty killing from Marek Malik, Michal Rozsival and Blair Betts; Buffalo finally got it setup down low. When Drury one-timed a Maxim Afinogenov pass from the slot inside the far post, Buffalo had the lead 8:10 into the second. But the lead was shortlived when just 4:46 later, Jagr one-timed home a Martin Straka pass to beat Noronen for his league-tying 20th goal (Flyers Simon Gagne). Nylander picked up an assist.

With the game tied, both teams traded chances, forcing each goalie to come up with difficult saves. Weekes denied Briere and Taylor Pyatt. With less than a minute left in the second, Noronen made the save of the night when he robbed Straka on the doorstep with an acrobatic pad stop. Off a Buffalo turnover, Nylander fed Straka but a sprawling Noronen's outstretched leg denied Straka of a certain goal. With Noronen down, Jagr hit his third post of the night to keep the game knotted.

Making his second start in a row, Noronen continued to baffle the Rangers early in the third. After stopping Dominic Moore, Noronen slid across to stone Jed Ortmeyer's rebound. It proved pivotal as a few minutes later, Buffalo retook the lead on a Jay McKee blast from the point. Off some hard work from Pyatt down low, he beat Maxim Kondratiev to a loose puck and chipped the puck up the boards. Adam Mair then chipped it to a pinching McKee, who one-timed the puck off the far post for a 2-1 lead with 8:16 left.

But all season, the Rangers had been very resilient. Once again, they would rise up to even the game. With Buffalo changing their D, New York's top line went to work. Off the rush, Nylander drew four Sabres at the blueline, then fed Jagr, who wristed a shot which rebounded out to Nylander at the left side of the net. From a difficult angle, Nylander hit the twine to tie it 2-2 with 4:14 remaining.

However, the Rangers weren't out of trouble yet. After Mike Grier left his feet on a borderline hit on Darius Kasparaitis seconds earlier, Jagr was penalized for taking down McKee along the boards with 2:15 to go. But the Rangers penalty kill got it done, allowing Weekes to see one harmless Kotalik shot to force overtime.

In the OT, the Rangers had a chance to win it on a four-on-three PP but Noronen stopped the lone Jagr shot to send it to a wild finish.

Notes: With his two points, Jagr moved ahead of the Flyers Peter Forsberg to take the league lead in scoring with 37 points (20-17-37). He needs just three more goals to tie Guy LaFleur (560) on the NHL career list. ... Weekes finished with 37 saves while Noronen made 25. ... Rangers won for only the second time without scoring a power play goal. ... The retirement of Gare's number was just the fifth in Sabres history (Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, Rene Robert and Tim Horton). Gare played seven seasons with Buffalo from 1974-81, totaling 267 goals, 233 assists for 500 points in 503 games.

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