New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Rick Nash's goal with 1:42 left to play closed out the New York Rangers' regular-season home schedule on a positive note, lifting the Blueshirts to a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres that clinched home-ice advantage for the first round of the upcoming playoffs.
Nash's one-timer off a Martin St. Louis feed, coupled with Philadelphia's loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday, secured second place in the Metropolitan Division heading into New York's finale at Montreal on Saturday. The Rangers will face either the Flyers or Columbus in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Henrik Lundqvist did his part by stopping 23-of-24 shots and Benoit Pouliot also scored to help the Rangers overcome a 1-0 deficit late in the second period.
"We showed some patience, it's not an easy game," Lundqvist remarked. "It felt like they came out pretty good, but after that they were just waiting for something good to happen to them and we took over the game."
Drew Stafford accounted for Buffalo's lone goal, with Matt Hackett coming up with 28 saves in the lowly Sabres' fifth consecutive loss.
"Those are the things that have happened to us for the vast majority of the year. It's inconsistent," said Sabres head coach Ted Nolan of his team's inability to hold on. "We play well and then we don't play very well. We make good plays and then we turn over the puck."
Buffalo, last in the NHL with 51 points, was still on track to take a lead into the second intermission despite being outshot by a whopping 18-1 margin in the middle session. However, Mats Zuccarello hit Pouliot in stride with a well-placed cross-ice pass and the New York wing rifled a shot just under the crossbar to pull the Rangers even with just 30.4 seconds left in the frame.
The Sabres did make their only shot count, though, as Mike Weber flicked the puck in front of the New York net to enable Stafford to sneak a backhander past Lundqvist near the midway mark of the second period.
Buffalo had a pair of power-play chances in the final nine minutes with the game still deadlocked at 1-1, but the Rangers killed them both before finally going in front with time winding down in regulation.
Derick Brassard led a transition rush before giving the puck off to St. Louis, who sent a long pass that Nash quickly deposited over Hackett's glove for the eventual game-winner.
"In the end we came out with some big plays and some big kills on the [penalty kill], and that final goal was just a beauty," Lundqvist said.
The Sabres outshot New York 12-9 during a scoreless opening period in which the Rangers failed to convert a pair of power-play opportunities.
Stafford, back from a four-game absence due to an undisclosed injury, now has seven goals and an assist in his last eight meetings with the Rangers ... Pouliot's goal extended his point streak to seven games ... New York improved to 31-8-3 when Zuccarello registers a point this season ... Weber is on a career-best three-game point streak ... The Rangers took all three matchups between the teams, earning their first season sweep of the Sabres since 2007-08.