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2021-22 Conference Finals: Rangers outlast Sabres to earn trip to Stanley Cup

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Game 7 – Rangers 2, Sabres 1

New York defeated the Sabres 2-1 in Buffalo and punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final where they’ll face the Chicago Blackhawks. Kappo Kakko’s goal broke a 1-1 tie 5:35 into the third period, then the Rangers held on for dear-life to earn the victory. 

Buffalo’s goalie Aaron Dell put in another impressive performance after leading the Sabres to two straight victories to tie the series and force Game 7, but Kappo’s goal would have been hard for the best of goalies to stop. Set up by a pass from Alexis Lafraniere from the left circle to Kakko to just outside the crease, Kakko lifted a snap shot over Dell’s glove hand that banged off the right pipe and into the back of the net. The assist was Lafraniere’s second of the game.

After a scoreless first period, each team lit the lamp in the middle frame. Nick Cousins scored his second of the playoffs for New York at 7:26, while Dylan Cozens scored during a Buffalo power play with three minutes left in the period after Ryan Lindgren was sent to the box for elbowing.

The Rangers celebrate their achievement

Stanley Cup: Blackhawks versus the Rangers

The Rangers will meet the Blackhawks in the Final. Chicago destroyed the Oilers in Game 7 by a 6-1 score in Edmonton to reach the Final and will have home-ice advantage against New York. During the playoffs, Chicago averaged 3.14 goals per game while allowing 2.71 per game. They were third-best on the power play (18.6%) and sixth-best of the penalty kill (84.8%). Winger Alex Debrincat led the team with 22 playoff points. The team’s star player, RW Patrick Kane, who missed five games with an injury, has 15 points, 6 goals, and 9 assists through 16 games.


Game 6 – Sabres 3, Rangers 2

The Sabres defeated the Rangers 3-2 at Madison Square Garden to force Game 7 back in Buffalo. The Sabres continued to strike early, scoring twice in the first period on Anders Bjork’s third and Bobbie Ryan’s fourth of the playoffs. Greg McKegg scored 6:04 into the second period to make it a 2-1 game, but Casey Mittelstadt scored three minutes later to push the lead to 3-1. 

In the third period, the Rangers went into full-attack mode but the outcome they sought came late as Kappo Kakko scored with nine minutes to play. New York couldn’t put in the equalizer down the stretch and the Sabres skated out with a huge upset.

West Final: Edmonton 5, Chicago 4 (Series tied 3-3)


Game 5 – Sabres 4, Rangers 2

The Sabres showed some life and avoided elimination from the playoffs by defending home ice in a 4-2 victory over the Rangers in Game 5. Jack Eichel, the Sabres captain, led by example and scored a goal and assisted on two others. Goalie Aaron Dell made 25 saves and earned his fifth win of the postseason, while Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves and lost for the seventh time in the playoffs.

Buffalo jumped out to an early 2-0 lead early in the first period before Rangers defenseman Adam Fox lit the lamp for his second of the playoffs to make it 2-1. In the second frame, Bryan Ryan scored 3:15 into the period to widen the lead back to two goals (3-1) for the Sabres. Artemi Panarin scored his seventh of the playoffs at 12:11 to cut the Sabres lead to 3-2 but Eichel came back in the third period to strike for his ninth of the playoffs to secure Buffalo’s lead.

West Final: Chicago 2, Edmonton 1 (Black Hawks up 3-2)


Game 4 – Rangers 5, Sabres 2

The Sabres put in goalie Aaron Dell in hopes of avoiding going down in the series 3-1, but Dell didn’t do much better than Craig Anderson as the Rangers rolled to a 5-2 victory. Vitali Kravtsov’s goal with second remaining in the second period was the difference maker — breaking a 2-2 tie to give New York the edge entering the third period. Buffalo could not find the equalizer, but Ranger’s winger Alexis Lafraniere did find the back of the net twice in the third period to seal his team’s victory.

Alexander Radulov opened the scoring 1:12 into the first first period with his seventh playoff goal. Sabres Jack Eichel answered just twelve seconds later to tie the game 1-1. Then Victor Olofsson put the Sabres up 2-1 minutes later. Rangers’ Filip Chytil tied the game 2-2 with 1:22 remaining in the period.

Igor Shesterkin earned the win after making 24 saves and improved to 11-6-0 in the playoffs. Dell is now 4-2-0 in the playoffs.


Game 3 – Rangers 3, Sabres 0

Buffalo’s game fell apart further, dropping the second straight game by a 3-0 score. Alexander Radulov’s goal in the first period was enough to carry the Rangers to victory, but Ryan Strome and Adam Fox lit the lamp in the third period to make sure.

Where was Jack Eichel? Eichel got off six shots but Igor Shesterkin was unbeatable for a second straight night. And goalie Craig Anderson’s defense of the net seems to be getting worse.

West Final: Edmonton 5, Chicago 1 (Oliers ahed 2-1)


Game 2 – Rangers 3, Sabres 0

New York evened the series 1-1 behind Igor Shesterkin’s shutout, the first of his playoffs career. Buffalo goalkeeper Craig Anderson looked as good as his Game 1 win through a scoreless first period, but his game fell apart in the middle frame as the Rangers scored three times. New York pumped the brakes on offense in the third period, but their defense didn’t — helping to secure the shutout victory. Alexis Lafraniere, Alexander Radulov, and Brian Goodrow scored for the Rangers.

West Final: Edmonton 4, Chicago 2 (series tied 1-1)


Game 1 – Sabres 3, Rangers 2

When Artemi Panarin scored within two minutes of the start of the game, there was a hint that the Rangers might dominate the Sabres. But that was not the case. Casey Mittelstadt evened the score 1-1 just before the end of the first period, then Buffalo scored two-unanswered in the middle frame before Greg McKegg scored to make it a 3-2 game going into the final period. Sabres goalkeeper Craig Anderson kept the Rangers out of the net in the third period and held the Sabres’ 1-goal lead. (Game Box Score)

West Final: Chicago 5, Edmonton 4

Conference Finals Schedule

Game 1 – NY Rangers @ Buffalo Sabres
Game 2 – NY Rangers @ Buffalo Sabres
Game 3 – Buffalo Sabres @ NY Rangers
Game 4 – Buffalo Sabres @ NY Rangers
Game 5 – NY Rangers @ Buffalo Sabres (if necessary)
Game 6 – Buffalo Sabres @ NY Rangers (if necessary)
Game 7 – NY Rangers @ Buffalo Sabres (if necessary)

New York Rangers vs Buffalo Sabres

How they got here — Buffalo defeated the Panthers in six in the 1st-round, and upset the league’s top club, Toronto in six. The Flyers gave New York trouble early before the Rangers took control to win the 1st-round series in six. Carolina was expected to be much tougher — and they were. The series went to a Game 7 and the Rangers crushed to victory. 

OFFENSE

Entering the Conference finals, the Sabres rank 3rd in scoring with a 2.92 GFPG. Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson lead with 12 points, but Eichel has made just 9 appearances while Olofsson has been in all 12 Sabres games.

The Rangers are first averaging three goals per game. Ryan Strome leads the team in points (11) followed by New York’s trade Deadline acquisition Alexander Radulov (10). Artemi Panarin has notched 2 game winning goals while Alexis Lafraniere has scored 2 playoffs power play goals.

DEFENSE

The Rangers ranked second in GAPG (2.46) behind the Maple Leafs (2.36) who were eliminated. The Sabres have a weakness in the crease and have allowed 2.83 goals per game (ranked 5th). Buffalo has split playoff games between two backup goalies.

GOALKEEPER

Igor Shesterkin — 13 GP, 8-5-0, .919 SV%, 2.36 GAA. This is Shesterkin’s first real playoff experience. He played in one playoff game in the 2019-20 season and took a loss. 

Craig Anderson — 8 GP, 4-3-0, .909 SV%, 2.98 GAA. 41-year old Anderson has been around a while and in 56 total playoff appearances, he’s 28-26-0 with a GAA of 2.43 and SV% of .926

Aaron Dell — 6 GP, 4-1-0, .937 SV%, 1.97 GAA. Dell spent time with San Jose and played in a total of 4 postseason games without much to get excited about.

Ryan Strome has stepped up to lead the Rangers on offense, registering 11 points in 13 games entering the Eastern Conference Final. But he’s also racked up the penalty minutes with 22 during the playoffs. New York may want to be more disciplined — their 73.6 PK% is one of the lowest in the playoffs.

Connor McDavid in the spotlight

Connor McDavid is playing in his fourth postseason, all with the Oilers. In 10 games he’s scored 17 points (5 G, 12 A). He’s surpassed his highest playoffs points total of 9 in the 2016-17 and 2019-20 postseasons. He ranks 2nd in points so far this playoffs. The Oilers will face the Black Hawks in the West Final.

Eichel returns from injury

Jack Eichel missed four games with knee soreness including his team’s series clinching victory over the Maple Leafs. Still, the Sabres are better with him than without and he should be ready for the Conference Final against New York.