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Sabres still fall despite Rangers absences

No Henrik Lundqvist, no Marc Staal, no Rick Nash and still those absences weren’t enough for the Buffalo Sabres to find a way to beat the New York Rangers.

Without their injured trio of veterans, the Rangers built a 3-0 lead early in the second period to KO Sabres goalie Robin Lehner from the game. But instead of cruising home, they had to survive a hairy second half of the game before finally pulling out a 4-2 win Tuesday before 18,651 in First Niagara Center.

It was the Rangers’ ninth straight win against the Sabres, their longest in series history, and marked the first time they’ve ever won five straight in Buffalo. The defeat ended the Sabres’ bid for their first five-game point streak since March 2012.

After Darick Brassard scored in the first period, Mats Zuccarello and Jasper Fest scored in an 87-second span early in the second. The Sabres rallied with goals by Sam Reinhart and Johan Larsson – and outshot the Rangers, 19-4, in the third period. New York iced the game on J.T. Miller’s empty-net goal with 1:00 left.

Sabre Rattler: Brassard opened the scoring at 7:30 of the first period, breaking alone to beat Lehner on the short side during a power play after a neat feed from Zuccarello. Brassard had five points against Buffalo during the teams’ meeting Jan. 25 in Madison Square Garden. It was the 24th goal of the season for Brassard, whose previous career high was the 19 he posted last season.

In relief of The King: Antti Raanta manned the Rangers’ goal for the third straight game in place of Lundqvist (neck spasms). He improved to 8-5-2 by making 34 saves.

Five-hole faux pas: Lehner would certainly want Zuccarrello’s goal back. The shifty Norwegian got his 22nd at 4:38 of the second on a give-and-go with Derek Stepan, leaking a bad-angle shot between Lehner’s legs to the left of the goalie as he crossed the goal line.

Screen shot: Fast made it 3-0 at 6:05 of the second with a sizzler from the right circle that beat Lehner on the short side. Lehner appeared screened by Chris Kreider on the play and was not able to create a better angle of vision on the shot. Lehner was lifted at that point after allowing three goals on 14 shots.

Sam I Am: Reinhart got within one goal of a 20-goal rookie season with a tap-in from Jack Eichel at 10:12 of the second period. Eichel showed prime patience on the rush and Reinhart drove hard to the net, getting the pass right on his stick at a perfect time.

20-20: Eichel got his 20th goal Monday in Toronto and when Reinhart gets his, they will become just the third duo of Sabres rookies to hit 20 goals in the same season. Danny Gare (31) and Peter McNab (22) did it in 1974-75, while Gilbert Perreault (38) and Steve Atkinson (20) also did it during the Sabres’ 1970-71 inaugural season.

Closing the gap: Buffalo got within 3-2 on Johan Larsson’s sixth goal of the season – and third in four games – at 16:10 on a perfect pass from captain Brian Gionta.

What a Relief He Is: Chad Johnson come on for Lehner after the Rangers’ third goal and stopped all 11 shots he faced. It’s the kind of showing he’s put up before. In four previous in-game relief roles in the Buffalo net this season, Johnson had stopped 50 of 53 shots.

Up Next: The Sabres practice Wednesday and then head for Montreal, where they will meet the Canadiens Thursday night in Bell Centre. After getting blown out, 7-2, by the Habs in October, they’ve rebounded for wins in the last two meetings. The Sabres won, 4-2, Feb. 3 on the road and posted a 6-4 victory Feb. 12 in FNC. The next home game is Saturday afternoon at 1 against Carolina.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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