BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Ryan Miller made 30 saves, including a brilliant blocker stop on Marian Gaborik, in helping the Buffalo Sabres clinch the Northeast Division title with a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.
Rookie Tyler Ennis had a goal and two assists while Drew Stafford had a goal and an assist for Buffalo, which won its sixth division title and first since 2007. Jochen Hecht, with the go-ahead goal, Derek Roy and Toni Lydman also scored for the Sabres, who chased Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist and delivered a blow to the Blueshirts' playoff hopes in the final week of the season.
The Rangers (36-33-10) opened the day in ninth place, and failed to gain ground in a tightly contested race for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff berth. Brandon Prust and PA Parenteau scored for the Rangers, who lost in regulation for the first time in six games (5-1-1).
Miller (40-18-8) matched the single-season franchise record for wins he set in 2006-07, and improved to 10-4-1 since leading Team USA to a silver medal at the Vancouver Games.
Tuesday's game was decided in the second period after the two teams traded leads in a first period that ended tied at 2.
Hecht, set up by Jason Pominville's cross-ice pass, scored from the right circle at the 5:17 mark to chase Lundqvist, who allowed three goals on 16 shots.
Then came Miller's save that drew a standing ovation from the soldout crowd and snuffed much of the momentum out of the Rangers.
Brandon Dubinsky pounced on a Sabres turnover in the neutral zone and drove up the right wing to lead a 4-on-1 rush. With Miller playing the shot, Dubinsky skipped a pass through the middle to Gaborik, who snapped a shot at the wide-open side. Miller, however, punched his blocker across to get a piece of the shot and deflect it out of play with 10:43 left in the period.
Four minutes later, Lydman put Buffalo ahead 4-2 by beating backup Alex Auld with a 35-footer to convert Stafford's drop pass on an odd-man rush. Ennis then put the game out of reach by scoring 2:06 into the third period.
Auld allowed two goals on 14 shots. And it was an unlikely letdown by Lundqvist, who entered the game allowing 10 goals in his past six, including two shutout victories. Lundqvist was beaten by shots from the right side on all three goals he allowed, including Roy's one-timer from a bad angle that sneaked in inside the near post.
NOTES: Rangers RW Ryan Callahan returned after missing four games with a left knee injury. ... Sabres captain D Craig Rivet did not play because of an illness, which forced him to leave practice a day earlier. ... Buffalo closes its season with three road games, starting at Boston on Thursday. ... Sabres D Tyler Myers, an NHL rookie of the year candidate, had an assist on Stafford's goal. ... The Rangers closed a six-game road trip with a 4-1-1 record.