Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell (51) tries to check New York Rangers right winger Ryan Callahan (43) away from the puck during the first period of an NHL playoff hockey game at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y. on Friday. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Thomas Vanek's fifth goal of the NHL playoffs at 10:11 of the third period Friday night lifted to the Buffalo Sabres to a 3-2 comeback win over the Rangers and a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Game 3 goes Sunday at Madison Square Garden (2 p.m. ET).
Chris Drury and Brian Campbell also scored for the Sabres, who were outshot and outchanced through two periods, but found another gear when it mattered most, tying the game on Drury's goal early in the third before Vanek won it.
The Sabres took advantage of a rare shift by the Rangers' fourth line and made them pay, Drew Stafford setting up Vanek with a cheeky between-the-legs backhand pass that the Austrian winger flipped past Henrik Lundqvist for the winner. Yellow pompons shook with unbridled joy as a sellout crowd of 18,690 at HSBC Arena rejoiced in the comeback.
Paul Mara and Martin Straka scored for the Rangers, who have to head home deflated after throwing their 'A' game at the top-seeded Sabres, but still falling short.
The Rangers succeeded in slowing down the speedy Sabres and stagnating their transition game, limiting Buffalo to only nine shots on goal after two periods. But some line juggling by Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff helped spark his team to a third-period comeback.
Straka opened the scoring on the game's first power play, his blast from the point beating a screened Ryan Miller at 10:08.
The Sabres got their own man advantage moments later and tied the game on Campbell's wicked wrist shot from the faceoff dot at 10:58, Lundqvist beaten top corner on the stick side.
The Rangers outshot the Sabres 13-4 and should have been up after 20 minutes, but Miller stood tall, including a sparkling glove save off Matt Cullen with 50 seconds to go in the period.
Rangers defenceman Michal Rozsival, who was a game-time decision after sustaining a leg injury in Game 1, hobbled off the ice at the buzzer after taking a thunderous hip check from Sabres blue-liner Dmitri Kalinin. He did, however, return for the second period.
Ruff moved up Ales Kotalik from the fourth line to Chris Drury's top line to star the second period, Stafford taking the demotion.
The Sabres, still being outplayed, were handed a four-minute power play on Fedor Tyutin's high-sticking penalty, but didn't record a single shot on goal, while hearing the boo-birds from the fans.
The two teams played a tentative middle period, but the Rangers went ahead on another power play with 1:20 left, Mara's shot from the point eluding Miller on the glove side - stunning HSBC Arena.
Moments earlier Rangers superstar winger Jaromir Jagr was decked by a hip check from Danius Zubrus, leaving the ice and going straight the dressing room. He did come back for the third.
The Sabres should have been happy to be down only 2-1 through 40 minutes, outshot 22-9 and looking little like the team that walked all over the Rangers in Game 1.
The paint must have been peeling off the dressing room walls between periods because the Sabres came out charged, Drury deftly deflecting a Toni Lydman shot just 24 seconds into the third.
Ruff, meanwhile, continued to juggle his lines, moving a struggling Maxim Afinogenov down to the fourth line. Stafford took his spot alongside Derek Roy and Vanek and it paid dividends, with Vanek scoring the winner a few shifts later.
From there the Sabres played shutdown hockey and kept the Rangers at bay.
Notes: Winger Brad Isbister replaced Jed Ortmeyer in the Rangers lineup. Ortmeyer joined forward Colton Orr and defencemen Thomas Pock as healthy scratches. Forwards Daniel Paille and Andrew Peters and defenceman Nathan Paetsch were once again left behind by the Sabres.