Mika Zibanejad recorded his third hat trick of the season early in the second period and Kaapo Kakko scored twice for the New York Rangers, who continued their recent home success with a 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Zibanejad had two goals in the first period and another early in the second for his seventh career hat trick, raising his 2020-21 goal total to 19. Adam Fox had three assists to extend his career-high total to 41 — most among NHL defensemen — for the Rangers (25-18-6, 56 points), who are 9-2-1 at home since the beginning of March and four points back of Boston for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division.
Both of Kakko’s two-goal games this season have come against the Sabres.
New York is 5-1-1 this season versus Buffalo (13-29-7, 33 points), which got goals from Jeff Skinner, Victor Olofsson and Sam Reinhart, but lost for the fourth time in six games.
Zibanejad opened the scoring 4:49 into the game on a pass from rookie Alexis Lafreniere, when he drove the puck from the high slot and past Sabres netminder Dustin Tokarski (23 saves). However, less than 1:30 later, the Sabres equalized on Skinner’s backhander off a rebound.
The Rangers went back on top with 7:58 left in the opening frame as Fox delivered a perfect cross-slot pass to Kakko, who one-timed the puck in with authority. Zibanejad made it 3-1 when he redirected Artemi Panarin’s laser of a pass, amid a triangle of Buffalo defenders, past Tokarski with 2:50 left in the first.
Zibanejad completed his hat trick just 2:05 into the second. Taking a pass from Pavel Buchnevich (two assists), Zibanejad pushed the puck through his legs while in stride and threw it on net and in.
Olofsson pulled one back for Buffalo with his power-play drive from the slot at the 14:47 mark of the second. But Kakko converted through traffic with 12:54 to go in regulation to make it 5-2.
Reinhart’s 21st of the season past New York goalie Igor Shesterkin (31 saves) made things somewhat interesting with 9:26 left to play, but Kevin Rooney’s empty-netter clinched it for the Rangers.
These teams meet for the final time in 2020-21 on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
–Field Level Media