BUFFALO – Despite John Tortorella’s repeated assertions that Henrik Lundqvist would be the reason the Rangers make the playoffs, the coach yanked his franchise goalie from a loss that may have sealed their postseason exclusion.
The Rangers, ending a season-high six-game road trip, had their three-game winning streak snapped in a 5-2 loss to the Sabres Tuesday night at the HSBC Arena. Lundqvist was pulled for the fifth time this season after the Sabres took a 3-2 lead at 5:17 of the second period.
The game did mark the return of Ryan Callahan to the lineup after he missed four games with an injured left knee. But the loss kept the Rangers (36-33-10) three points behind the eighth-place Bruins with three games remaining.
The ninth-place Rangers host the Maple Leafs tonight and another regulation loss would mean they can’t Philadelphia even though they end the season with a home-and-home series with the Flyers Friday and Sunday. The Flyers won in Toronto Tuesday.
The Rangers have not missed the postseason since 2004.
Meanwhile, the Sabres (44-25-10) clinched the Northeast, their first division title in three seasons. Ryan Miller stopped 29 shots, none better than when he slid to his left and somehow deflected Marian Gaborik’s shot into the netting with his stick after Brandon Dubinsky fed him going to the crease on a two-on-one. Miller also drew a roughing call at 17:30 of the third period after he scuffled with Jody Shelley.
Lundqvist, playing in his 70th game and making his 14th straight start and 22nd in the last 23 games, was removed after allowing Jochen Hecht to beat him to the far post with a shot that stayed lowed to the ice through traffic. Lundqvist faced 16 shots.
Alex Auld, who made his third appearance since being claimed on re-entry waivers from the Stars and his first since relieving Lundqvist in a 6-3 loss to the Devils on March 10, gave up two goals on 12 shots.
Toni Lydman beat Auld from the high slot at 13:22 of the second period to and Tyler Ennis made it 5-2 at 2:06 of the third period.
Still, a season that started with Tortorella saying he wanted to rest Lundqvist more, will end with the goalie reaching 70 games played for the fourth straight time and likely topping his career high of 72, which he played in 2007-08.
“I love to play, I don’t mind it now,” Lundqvist said. “I don’t feel tired. I just feel excited.”
Lundqvist’s play certainly has been one reason why the Rangers were able to re-enter the playoff race after being seven points out on March 23. Another is that the Rangers have been better about forgetting the wins as well as the losses.
And that will be key tonight.
“Especially of late, it’s been one of our biggest strengths,” Tortorella said. “I think our guys have handled themselves very well and put themselves in a good attitude no matter what they’ve gone through. I really appreciate the way they’ve been fighting.”
Callahan announced his return at 12:56 of the first period as his hard – but clean – check of 6-foot-8 Sabres rookie defenseman Tyler Myers into the corner boards caused both Lydman and Derek Roy to gang up on Callahan at the crease. Roy wound up with a cross-checking minor while Callahan was called for roughing.
Roy had tied the game at 1-1 with a power-play goal at 9:57 of the first period after gritty right wing Brandon Prust extended his career-high goal-scoring streak to three games at 6:57 as he took the puck away from Chris Butler in the slot.
P.A. Parenteau then brought the Rangers into a 2-2 tie as he stuffed in a power-play goal at 18:18 after Dan Girardi’s shot from the blue line trickled through Miller.
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