QUEENS — Look mom, no roof!
Paul Carey and Michael Grabner gave the New York Rangers a two-goal lead, but the Buffalo Sabres stormed back to tie it and force overtime on goals from Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen before J.T. Miller’s game-winner 2:37 into sudden-death lifted New York to a 3-2 victory in the 2018 Winter Classic at Citi Field in Queens on New Year’s Day.
In the 10th anniversary of the first Winter Classic in 2008, sub-zero temperatures with the wind chill factor did not deter any of the 41,821 in attendance in what was one of the most entertaining outdoor hockey games in history.
With a tough call on the Sabres’ Jacob Josefson for tripping in overtime and the face-off deep in the Buffalo zone, Mats Zuccarrello fed Kevin Shattenkirk at the point. His shot, off the right post, caromed out to Miller in the slot and the winger made no mistake banging home the rebound for the game-winner.
”Fortunate to get a good shot to the net,” Miller told the Associated Press after the game. ”Not too often they come right on the stick like that.”
”We talked about going into this game there’s no way you’re going to look back at this as a great memory if you don’t win,” said Lundqvist, who is 4-0-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average outdoors. ”Now we got a big win and we can always look back at this game as a great experience.”
The New York Rangers struck first, just 4:09 into the game when the Sabres’ Nathan Beaulieu failed to clear the zone. New York maintained possession and worked an effective perimeter along the boards before Jesper Fast and Boo Nieves found Carey camped out in front. Carey, who only saw 9:50 of ice time, made his only shot of the game count when the Boston native beat Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner five-hole.
The Rangers doubled their lead just 4:11 later when Miller got the puck to a streaking Kevin Hayes, who circled before turning around and hitting Grabner at the back door. The goal, at 11:40 of the opening frame, sent New York into the first intermission up 2-0.
Buffalo slashed the deficit in half on the power play less than a minute into the second period when Reinhart was there to cash in a rebound off Ristolainen’s initial shot from the blue line. Fighting through Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal in Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist;s wheelhouse, Reinhart finished it for his sixth goal of the season to make it 2-1.
“The first period, it just seemed to go by in two seconds,” Reinhart told The Buffalo News. “There was so much going on.”
In a second period with both teams battling the wind and the shadows cast off the upper deck at Citi Field, home to Major League Baseball’s New York Mets, the Rangers were fortunate to hold a 2-1 lead after two periods of play. But once again Buffalo got off to another quick start in the third.
Just 27 seconds in, Ristolainen scored his second goal in as many games when Ryan O’Reilly forced a turnover and the big Finnish defenseman snapped a wrist shot through traffic and past Lundqvist labeled for the top-right corner to make it 2-2 with 19:33 remaining in regulation.
With a mix of shadows and glare from the sun, both teams changed sides in the third and overtime, but neither Lundqvist (31 saves) nor Lehner (39 saves) would yield until the Rangers were afforded a power play in overtime.
On the heels of Miller’s game-winner in sudden-death, the New York Rangers improve to 21-13-5. The Sabres, which just defeated the New Jersey Devils in overtime fashion on December 29, fall to 10-20-9.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that probably haven’t been on that stage in a while,” Sabres’ Kyle Okposo said. “That’s more like getting ready for a playoff game, and that’s kind of the stage that was set with all the media, all the hype and the attention.”
“It was a good learning experience for us, so hopefully when we do get in the playoffs, whenever that may be, then we can draw on this,” Okposo said.
With the victory, Lundqvist recorded his 423rd-career win, tying Tony Esposito for eighth place on the NHL’s all-time career list.
The Winter Classic was Sabres’ Benoit Pouliot’s fifth-career outdoor game, tying Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brad Richards, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews for the most, since the first classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo in 2008. Pouliot previously appeared in two Heritage Classic games for the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 20, 2011, and the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 23, 2016 as well as a member of the Rangers in their Yankee Stadium Series games in Jan. 2014.
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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