Lundqvist, Rangers battle struggling Sabres

( - Henrik Lundqvist's recent contract extension further proved that it's good to be the king.

Lundqvist is slated to start Thursday night for New York one day after inking his new deal as the Rangers visit the struggling Buffalo Sabres.

Set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end, the 31-year-old Lundqvist confirmed his future is in New York, signing a seven-year deal worth a reported $59.5 million. The contract is likely to keep the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner with the Rangers for the rest of his career.

"Two things were real clear to me," Lundqvist said on Wednesday of his thoughts for the future. "No. 1 was I really want to win the (Stanley) Cup here in New York. It's my biggest goal and my biggest dream and it pushes me right now to work even harder. Secondly I want to be a Ranger for life. That was a big thing that just became really clear to me because of how they've treated me.

"I can't wait to see the challenge here and try to bring the Cup here to New York. I think we have a really great team."

Lundqvist is having a bit of a down season by his standards, going 8-11-0 with a 2.51 goals against average and .917 save percentage in 20 games. However, one of his two shutouts this season came on Oct. 31 at home versus the Sabres as he halted 29 shots.

In 25 career meetings with Buffalo, Lundqvist is 13-10-2 with a 2.33 GAA.

The Swede is slated to return to the net for the first time in three games after rookie backup Cam Talbot started the previous two. Talbot made 35 saves in a 5-2 win over Vancouver on Saturday before yielding four goals on 29 shots faced in a 5-2 setback to visiting Winnipeg on Monday.

The 26-year-old had allowed two or fewer goals in each of his first seven NHL starts, winning the last six.

Ryan Callahan and Mats Zuccarello supplied the goals for New York, which split a two-game homestand and is 14-14-0 on the season.

"We're definitely not getting the traction that I think we want, that I know we want," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. "The only way we are going to get traction and get better is by playing more consistent hockey.

"Is this team a .500 hockey club? We're certainly playing like one right now. If we want to get off of the .500 mark we are going to have to start playing better."

New York fell to 5-6-0 at home this season and begins a nine-game homestand on Saturday following this road tilt.

The Sabres come in having lost six of their last seven games, following up an overtime win against Toronto with Saturday's 1-0 overtime setback to the New Jersey Devils.

Jhonas Enroth stopped the first 23 shots he faced, but got beat on a wrister by the Devils' Steve Bernier with 40.2 seconds remaining in the extra frame.

The Sabres were outshot 24-15 in the game, logging seven of their shots in the second period.

"It wasn't the most exciting hockey game, but when you come on the road, that's what you want to do and overall, I like the way we competed from the second period on," Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said.

Nolan is likely to have center Cody McCormick available for the first time since Nov. 21 as he has been out with an upper-body injury. However, Matt D'Agostini has not practiced due to illness and is questionable, while defenseman Alexander Sulzer could sit out tonight due to an undisclosed injury that has kept him out of practice this week.

Ryan Miller is the likely starter for the Sabres tonight and he gave up both goals on 46 shots faced in the 2-0 loss on Oct. 31. He fell to 13-6-5 lifetime versus the Rangers with a 2.32 GAA.

The Sabres have lost six of their last eight overall versus the Rangers, including three of the past four at home.