EditorsNote: adds “Henrik” to four graf, removes “Henrik” from 13th graf
Eichel leads Sabres over Rangers
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel received a hero’s welcome in his first home game of the season. He certainly lived up to the hype.
The superstar sophomore scored twice in the third period to lead the Buffalo Sabres to a 4-3 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night. Eichel was playing in his second game of the season after missing the first 21 with a high ankle sprain.
“It just kind of shows what kind of player he can be, what kind of player he is,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s a dynamic player and he brings so much to our team with speed and attack. And everyone feeds off it.”
Eichel’s heroics began with 7:15 remaining. With the Sabres down 3-2, he evened the score with a power-play strike. After receiving a feed from Kyle Okposo, the center’s quick shot had just enough to get into the net after Henrik Lundqvist got a piece of it.
“It’s just a little play we kind of drew up prior to the power play with what they were doing on their PK,” Eichel said. “I told him let’s get it to the outside and try to work it to the middle and we were able to do it and it works out well.”
The game-winner came with 5:32 remaining. As Eichel attempted a centering pass to left winger Evander Kane -- who had an open net, with Lundqvist out of position -- the puck deflected off Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello’s left skate and into the net.
“It’s kind of hectic down there,” Eichel said. “Just try to find a soft spot ... I knew that Lundqvist got over so I was trying to hit (Kane) coming back through and luckily I got a nice bounce.”
The second-year pro is off to a blistering start since returning to the lineup. Eichel has four points (three goals, one assist) in his first two games.
“Obviously, he’s a pretty special player,” Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. “Being able to come back, you knew he was going to be able to jump into things.”
Gionta and Johan Larsson also scored for the Sabres (9-9-5). Anders Nilsson made 22 saves.
Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and Marc Staal scored for the Rangers (16-8-1), who surrendered a third-period lead for the first time this season in 14 tries.
“That’s uncharacteristic for us,” McDonagh said. “We’ve got to learn from it and make sure we play all the way to the end and make sure that we realize that we need everybody here on the top of their game and not just a few guys carrying us.”
Lundqvist made 30 saves. Lundqvist was not pleased with his play or the unlucky bounces on two key Sabres goals.
“All of them, really, just some weird plays,” Lundqvist said. “But I guess that happens when they spend so much time in our own end.”
The back-and-forth scoring began 18 seconds into the game on a fluke goal.Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe’s long pass from center ice deflected off Larsson near the blue line and skipped past Lundqvist and into the net for Larsson’s fourth goal of the year.
McDonagh evened the score with a power-play goal with 3:45 remaining in the first. With traffic in front of the net, McDonagh’s long shot from the point made it through for his first goal of the year.
Nash gave the Rangers their second power-play goal of the night 8:15 into the second to give New York a 2-1 lead. After a rebound lingered around the crease, Nash poked it home for his 11th goal of the year.
The Sabres quickly answered 1:33 later. Gionta evened the score following a feed from behind the net by left winger Marcus Foligno at 9:48.
The Rangers took a 3-2 lead less than two minutes later on Staal’s second goal of the year. Right winger Jesper Fast’s backhand saucer pass found Staal alone in the slot, and the defenseman buried a quick one-timer at 11:42.
That was all before Eichel’s heroics, however.
“He’s a difference-maker,” Gionta said. “He can open up a game at any time.”
NOTES: G Robin Lehner (hip), D Zach Bogosian (knee sprain) and D Dmitry Kulikov (lower back) were scratched for the Sabres. Lehner injured his hip in Tuesday’s win over the Ottawa Senators and is considered day-to-day. With Lehner scratched, the Sabres recalled G Linus Ullmark from the AHL’s Rochester Americans before the game. In 15 games this season, Ullmark has a record of 7-7-1 and a save percentage of .913. ... D Kevin Klein and C Josh Jooris were scratched for the Rangers. ... This was the first of three meetings between the two teams this season. Their next meeting is Jan. 3 in New York.