New York Rangers\' Ryan Callahan, left, gets the puck by Buffalo Sabres goaltender Patrick Lalime in the second period during an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 21, 2009, at Madison Square Garden in New York. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Julie Jacobson
NEW YORK - It all came together for Ryan Callahan.
The New York forward scored two goals Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres, a team in close pursuit of his Rangers and the club he grew up rooting for in Rochester.
Oh, and it all came in a win on his 24th birthday.
Callahan scored one of New York's three goals in the second period and sealed the victory with an empty-netter to lift the Rangers to a 5-3 victory over the sliding Sabres. Callahan, in his third NHL season, is one goal away from reaching 20 for the first time.
"It was a good way to spend my birthday," Callahan said.
After a three-day break following a shootout victory at Montreal on Wednesday, the Rangers stretched their winning streak to three. New York is seventh in the Eastern Conference and four points above the post-season cutoff with 10 games remaining.
Former Buffalo captain Chris Drury and Nikolai Zherdev also scored during the decisive second. Markus Naslund staked the Rangers to a 1-0 lead in the first, and Henrik Lundqvist made 37 saves as New York moved eight points ahead of 10th-place Buffalo.
The Rangers have scored 33 goals in nine games after totalling 13 in the previous eight.
"We are playing a little bit better than we did before, but the biggest difference now is that we are finding the net," Lundqvist said. "It is a big relief. We find ways to score and you get confidence from it."
The Rangers seemed headed to an easy victory when they carried a 4-1 lead into the third, but Buffalo cut the deficit to a goal with 1:21 left.
"Nobody is going to quit," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I don't know if I ever played with anybody who ever quit.
"We've got the jump back. We've got the pizzaz back. The only trouble is, we're running out of time."
Patrick Lalime allowed four goals on 19 shots and was replaced by Mikael Tellqvist at the start of the third. Including Buffalo's 6-4 home loss to Philadelphia on Friday, Lalime gave up 10 goals on 50 shots in a 24-hour span.
Daniel Paille cut the deficit to 2-1 in the second, and Clarke MacArthur and Toni Lydman brought the Sabres closer in the third, but Buffalo lost its fourth straight (0-3-1), The Sabres are 3-7-2 since No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller injured an ankle when he was run into by Rangers forward Scott Gomez during a win on Feb. 21.
Miller is skating again, but isn't ready to play. By the time he is healthy, the Sabres' playoff hopes could be gone.
"We've got to still believe, but we need to have everybody," Sabres defenceman Jaroslav Spacek said. "In the second period, we had a couple of lines working hard when we needed all 20 guys working hard. In the third, you could see the difference."
Ruff had called Gomez's hit on Miller intentional, and the Rangers alternate captain appeared to be an early target. In the first period, defenceman Toni Lydman drove Gomez hard, headfirst into the end boards, and several post-whistle skirmishes broke out.
Zherdev, usually not a physical player, quickly came to Gomez's defence.
"We're a pretty close team in here," Gomez said. "I was shocked Nikki even got in there because I beat him in pingpong pretty bad this morning."
Sean Avery, who has six points in eight games since being reacquired by the Rangers, was in the middle of a few dustups. He stuck his fingers into the faceshield protecting Thomas Vanek's broken jaw and tugged it during a stoppage.
Avery, who had a three-game goal streak snapped Wednesday in the Rangers' victory at Montreal, assisted on Zherdev's 21st - a goal originally credited to him.
Less than three minutes after Lauri Korpikoski's unsuccessful penalty shot, Naslund gave the Rangers the lead with his 22nd. Nik Antropov send a pass from right wing in front that bounced off New York defenceman Marc Staal and came to Naslund for a tuck-in at the right post at 9:01.
Drury doubled New York's advantage 2:25 into the second with a power-play goal - a nifty deflection in the air of Paul Mara's shot.
As that goal was being announced, Paille brought the Sabres within 2-1 when teammate Dominic Moore banked in a shot off his skate.
Callahan needed only 2:33 to get that one back for the Rangers, 7-3-1 since John Tortorella took over for fired coach Tom Renney. Callahan forced Spacek into a bad pass at the left point that was intercepted by Brandon Dubinsky, who then fed the puck to Callahan as he raced the other way on a breakaway.
"He's a guy I can use in all aspects of the game, times of the game and situational plays," Tortorella said.
Zherdev made it 4-1 with 2:34 left in the second. The Sabres cut the deficit to two goals on MacArthur's 13th goal, scored 18 seconds into the third. Lydman trimmed the lead to 4-3 with 1:20 left.
Notes: Callahan has four goals and three assists in a five-game point streak. ... Drury's co-captain on the Sabres, Danny Briere, scored two goals for Philadelphia at Buffalo on Friday. ... Korpikoski was awarded the penalty shot after being tripped by Spacek. ... Buffalo won the season series 3-1.