Two points were critical, anyway you cut it.
But the Rangers received something just as important last night, secondary scoring.
All season, the likes of Chris Drury, Sean Avery, Ryan Callahan, and Chris Higgins have been held off the score sheet. Even in the past couple weeks, their improved work ethic was not being rewarded with points or offensive contributions.
But last night in Buffalo, something clicked as top-scorers Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik didn't have to be sole source of offense. The top-nine forwards saw more equitable time on ice and it paid dividends.
Late in the first period, Higgins broke in 2-on-1 with Gaborik and lifted a wrist shot over Ryan Miller to give the Rangers the lead. Higgins has been much better along the boards and has not shied away from the dirty areas in the past few games.
With just a one-goal deficit, the Rangers continued to pressure through the game, putting 15 shots on goal in the second period rather than sitting back or allowing the Sabres to get at Henrik Lundqvist. It was an overall complete 40 minutes of play led in large part the middle lines.
In the third, Buffalo came on strong looking for the equalizer, but steady goaltending and all five skaters involved in the defensive zone coverage prevented any major scoring opportunities. Then, with about six minutes to go, Avery cut wide and put a wrist shot low on Miller who kicked a rebound to Callahan near the crease. The charging Callahan buried the puck, giving the Rangers a 2 - 0 lead and the eventual game winner.
A Lundqvist blunder gave the Sabres a chance with about 1:30 left, but again team play kept them at bay.
So how can a team put forth such a disjointed effort one night and play completely the next? In this case, the lines finally clicked.
Head Coach John Tortorella has been vying for the right combinations, and last night was pretty close. Drury centering Callahan and Avery was a consistent two-way line that should stick a while. Newcomer Erik Christensen between Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins was pretty good as well.
And while Artem Anisimov isn't the best option as first line center, he played well with Gaborik and Prospal. Once the Rangers get healthy, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect these combinations:
Prospal - Dubinsky - Gaborik
Avery - Drury - Callahan
Higgins - Anisimov - Kotalik
and a hodge podge fourth line between Aaron Voros, Donald Brashear, Christensen, and Brian Boyle.