Hot Mika Zibanejad leads Rangers into final tilt with Sabres

Sports

Some recent strong play at home — and overall against the Buffalo Sabres — has the New York Rangers still in the hunt for a playoff spot.

The Rangers aim for a third straight home win Tuesday night while looking to conclude an already successful season series against the Sabres.

New York (25-18-6, 56 points) sits fifth in the East Division, four points back of Boston, which owns the fourth and final playoff spot. The Rangers have only seven games remaining, and while the Bruins have two games in hand, the Rangers’ optimism is fueled by getting to finish their regular season with two games at Boston on May 6 and 8.

Before then, the Rangers play four of their next five at home, where they are 9-2-1 and outscored opponents 58-31 since the beginning of March.

On Sunday, Mika Zibanejad posted his third hat trick of the season in a 6-3 home win over last-place Buffalo (13-29-7, 33 points).

“That’s the only thing we can do, try to win games and see how far that takes us, really,” said Zibanejad, who has eight goals with 10 assists over his last 14 games.

“That’s our mindset right now, just focus on the next game. Try to get the two points and move on from there.”

New York has had little trouble earning points against Buffalo this season, going 5-1-1, including 3-0-0 at home. Zibanejad, has four goals with two assists in the last five games against the Sabres.

Teammate Adam Fox recorded three of his 41 assists (most among NHL defensemen) on Sunday and has 10 versus Buffalo this season.

Igor Shesterkin improved to 4-0-1 against Buffalo this season with a 2.12 goals-against average. Backup Alexandar Georgiev, 4-1-0 with a 1.42 GAA in his last five starts overall, stopped 21 shots during a 3-2 loss at Buffalo on Jan. 26.

Center Colin Blackwell (maintenance) did not practice on Monday for the Rangers. Defenseman Jacob Trouba (upper body injury) skated on his own and remains day-to-day.

Already eliminated from playoff contention, the Sabres are a competitive 7-6-2 since their club-record 18-game winless rut. Yet, they have yielded 15 goals over the three most recent contests.

“We’re obviously an evolving group here,” interim Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I don’t want to say learning. It’s more evolving and adjusting.

“We get a chance to play (the Rangers) right away again, and it will be nice to see how we can respond.”

While the Sabres have hit another bumpy stretch on a dismal season, Sam Reinhart continues to thrive with four of his 21 team-leading 21 goals over the last two games. He has posted three of those goals with five assists in the seven games against New York this season.

Teammate Dustin Tokarski might be hitting a wall after allowing five goals for a second straight start Sunday. He has yielded 12 goals in three games against the Rangers, and rookie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen could make his second career start in net for Buffalo on Tuesday.

–Field Level Media

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