Sabres 5, Rangers 2

Ryan Miller has already played a key role in leading the Buffalo

Sabres back to the playoffs for the first time in three years.

With one clutch save among the 30 he made in a 5-2 win over the

New York Rangers on Tuesday night, Miller took the Sabres a step

further by helping them clinch the Northeast Division title.

Miller’s blocker stop on Marian Gaborik midway through the

second period turned the momentum in Buffalo’s direction in helping

the team clinch its sixth division title and first since 2007. The

save came with Buffalo clinging to a 3-2 lead and with the Rangers

driving in on a 4-on-1 rush.

With Miller playing the shot, Brandon 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, and was rewarded by a lengthy

standing ovation from the soldout crowd.

“That was one for the books,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “That

was an absolutely fabulous save. I think our guys built momentum

off of that and we really went after them.”

Miller even managed a smile, though he neglected to wear the

divisional championship hat Sabres officials had distributed in the

locker room following the win.

“It feels good,” Miller said. “It’s something we were hoping

to accomplish at the start of the season. It’s one stop along the

way.”

It was a different feeling for the Rangers, whose playoff hopes

sustained a blow in the final week of the season. With three games

left, the ninth-place Rangers lost ground to Philadelphia, and now

sit three points back of Boston in the race for the East’s eighth

and final playoff berth.

They’re not giving up, yet.

“This is our season,” Dubinsky said. “Until all eight teams

are locked, we’re going to continue to fight.”

Brandon Prust and PA Parenteau scored for the Rangers, who lost

in regulation for the first time in six games (5-1-1).

Rookie Tyler Ennis had a goal and two assists while Drew

Stafford had a goal and an assist for Buffalo. Jochen Hecht, with

the go-ahead goal, Derek Roy and Toni Lydman also scored for the

Sabres, who chased Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist.

Miller (40-18-8) proved to be the difference as he 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.

For his reward?

“I’m going to go to the spa and have a hot tub and massage and

relax,” Miller said. “That’s it, and it’s back to work

tomorrow.”

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.

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 before

the second period was over. 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.

Rangers coach John Tortorella declined to discuss his decision

to yank Lundqvist.

“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Tortorella said. “We

have another game to play tomorrow and we need to be better from

our goaltending on out.”

In closing a six-game road swing, the Rangers return home to

host Toronto on Wednesday.

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.