BUFFALO, N.Y. — No. 1 draft pick Alexis Lafreniere scored his first career goal 2:47 into overtime to lead the New York Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.
Artemi Panarin had a goal and set up Ryan Strome’s game-opening goal, and the Rangers snapped an 0-3-1 skid to win for just the second time this season.
Igor Shesterkin stopped 37 shots for his first win since taking over the starting duties following Henrik Lunqvist’s off-season departure.
Sam Reinhart had a goal and assist and Jack Eichel also scored for Buffalo which dropped to 3-3-2. Linus Ullmark finished with 22 saves in a game the Sabres were out-shot 24-9 through two periods and 39-25 overall.
Lafreniere, the rookie playmaking forward out of Quebec, had to wait four months before being selected first in the draft, which was delayed until October because of the coronavirus pandemic. And he had to wait until his seventh career game to register his first point.
The goal came after Eichel turned the puck over in his own zone. Colin Blackwell collected the loose puck and drove up the right side before flipping a pass through the middle to Lafreniere, who one-timed the puck inside the near post.
The Rangers finally won a one-goal game after going 0-3-1 in their past four outings.
New York coach David Quinn maintained optimism in the NHL’s youngest lineup by noting the Rangers’ past four outings were one-goal losses.
“I just like the pace that we’ve played at, how we’ve competed and a lot of times we’ve been the better team,” Quinn said before the game. “That doesn’t mean anything if you’re not winning, but certainly we’re encouraged by the progress of our young players. ... I have zero doubt we’re going to get out of this.”
The Sabres rallied to earn a point in a game they overcame two one-goal deficits.
The game turned in the Sabres' favour in the third period, starting with Ullmark's kickout of his right pad to stop Lafreniere, who was set up alone at the left post in the opening minute.
Buffalo then tied it on Reinhart’s power-play goal 20 seconds after Ryan Lindgren was penalized for cross-checking Kyle Okposo into the end boards of the Rangers zone. Reinhart was left alone at the left post where he redirected in Victor Olofsson’s pass from the right circle.
Okposo briefly went up the tunnel before returning to the bench after appearing to hurt his left ankle.
Ullmark was even sharper in stopping six shots during a Rangers power-play midway through the third period, with Jeff Skinner off for delay of game.
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger’s objective in a shortened season is making sure Buffalo remains in the playoff hunt through 36 games and then see how the final 20 shake out.
“That’s our definite No. 1 goal is to get more than halfway into the season right in the middle of everything and then be one of the teams that rises to the top,” Krueger said Thursday morning. “We don’t expect to necessarily rise there right off the hop.”
Krueger’s more comfortable with the Sabres dealing with early season challenges, such as their 1-3 start, as opposed to last season when Buffalo opened with a 9-2-2 before fading to miss the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season.
“I really felt everything came way too easy for us early,” he said.
Rangers: D Jack Johnson is out with a groin injury, which Quinn termed short term. He was replaced by Brendan Smith, who sat out two of the past three games.
Sabres: D Henri Jokiharju missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury. C Tage Thompson was a healthy scratch for a third-consecutive game.
Rangers: Two-game homestand against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and Monday.
Sabres: Two-game homestand against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and Sunday.
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John Wawrow, The Associated Press