Rangers, Sabres take center stage at Winter Classic (Jan 01, 2018)

BY AP • January 1, 2018

NEW YORK -- The Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers take center stage for the National Hockey League on New Year's Day, meeting outdoors at Citi Field for the league's 10th annual Winter Classic.

The Sabres will be the home team when the teams take the ice at the home of the New York Mets in Queens.

Though the clubs are headed in opposite directions this season, players from both sides are excited for the opportunity to take part in the NHL's showcase event.

"It'll definitely be a cool experience," said veteran defenseman Zach Bogosian, whose Sabres (10-20-8) reside in last place in the Eastern Conference. "It'll be pretty cool to know everyone is watching. It's been awesome to be part of the experience, and I'm looking forward to (Monday)."

Unlike the struggling Sabres, the Rangers (20-13-5) are in the thick of the playoff race in the East. Their enthusiasm for the Winter Classic was equally evident after practicing outdoors on Sunday afternoon.

"Being here now really gets the excitement started," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "It's hard to talk about during the season when it's so far away, but now finally being here, you see the stadium, you see the spectacle that it is, it's a special moment in the season, and we're very fortunate to get the opportunity to play in it."

This is the second Winter Classic appearance for each team.

The Sabres hosted the very first one on Jan. 1, 2008, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby scored the game-winner.

The Rangers defeated the Flyers 3-2 on Jan. 2, 2012, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

In fact, the Rangers have never lost an outdoor game.

Along with the 2012 Winter Classic victory, the Rangers also beat the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders in consecutive Stadium Series contests at Yankee Stadium in 2014.

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is a perfect 3-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage in outdoor games. His three outdoor wins are more than any goaltender in league history.

"It's always hard to look back at any type of game when you don't win," Lundqvist said. "If it's playoffs, Olympics or outdoor games, if you don't win the game, you don't walk around and think back on it with a big smile on your face. If you have a good game, you win, it's easier to go there mentally. So, that's what you make sure you want to do: play your best and make the most of it."

Buffalo's Jason Pominville has a unique perspective.

He played in that first Winter Classic for the Sabres, and 10 years later, he is a part of a more-established event.

"The first one was a lot of unknown, but the way it went, the way the fans responded, the way the game ended, I don't think you could have asked for a better scenario for the league," Pominville said Sunday.

"Now, the whole buildup around it, from press conferences in the summertime, TV shows, everything around it has been pretty amazing to be a part of. We're excited about it again, for sure."

Sabres coach Phil Housley said that he hopes performing well on the big stage "springboards us" to a better second half this season.

Buffalo is coming off an exciting 4-3, come-from-behind overtime victory at New Jersey on Friday.

Perhaps, the hottest player in the league is Sabres center Jack Eichel, who has scored seven goals in his past six games. Eichel scored two goals Friday, giving him 15 this season.

"Most kids, I think, dream of playing in this game, and I was no different," said Eichel, who brings a four-game point-scoring streak into Monday. "I am just so excited to be a part of it."

The Rangers lost their last game, a 3-2 shootout loss at Detroit on Friday, and they are just 1-1-2 in their past four.

"This game we're playing is very important," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. "You look at the standings right now and everything is so tight. So, once the whole hoopla of (Sunday) and the family skating is over, (Monday) at 1:00 when the puck drops, it's going to be about the two points."

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