BUFFALO - On the edge of what would have been a deflating, forgettable loss to the toothless Sabres, Keith Yandle pushed the Rangers when they needed it most in their 2-0 win Saturday night over the Sabres.
Yandle, acquired from Arizona at the March 2 trade deadline, scored his first goal in six games as a Ranger, wristing a shot from the point through traffic past Anders Lindback at 7:31 of the third period to snap a scoreless tie. Martin St. Louis scored an empty-netter with 32.7 seconds left to seal the Rangers' fourth win in a row.
In the last of a five-game road stretch, rookie Mackenzie Skapski, 20, making his second NHL start, kept the Sabres at bay for his first shutout and second win -- both here at First Niagara Center -- with 20 saves. His shutout streak against the Sabres reached 119:46.
With the win, the Rangers have 93 points and moved three points ahead of the Islanders, who lost to Montreal, for first place in the Metropolitan Division, with four games in hand.
The Rangers are tied for the most points in the NHL with the Canadiens and Ducks.
Yandle, a 28-year-old defenseman, has admitted that he has been struggling with the transition to a team with so many weapons after coming from a team when the offense essentially ran through him.
"I'm trying to find my place and role on the team and trying to get comfortable with the situation after being in Phoenix for a while," he said Thursday.
With the game scoreless after 40 minutes, Derek Stepan was tripped early in the third period, but the Rangers couldn't connect on their third power play, with Lindback hanging on to Chris Kreider's tip of Dan Girardi's shot and two more shots. Jesper Fast then hit the post -- the fourth time that happened in the game for the Blueshirts -- after the man-advantage ended. The Rangers are 1-for-their-last-19 with the man advantage.
The Rangers were 0-for-3 on the power play Saturday night but killed off all three shorthanded situations.
Back to those four posts hit by the Rangers: On a first-period power play, Derick Brassard's shot tipped off Lindback's glove and kissed the post, and J.T. Miller rang the iron from the right side before the man-advantage ended. In the second, Matt Hunwick fed Martin St. Louis for a breakaway, and he drew Lindback out of the cage and his backhander grazed his pad and struck the pipe. Fast hit metal in the third.
Skapski, who backstopped the Rangers to a 3-1 win in his debut here Feb. 20, did all he could to gain two points.
Early in the second period, he darted left to deny a wide-open Brian Gionta, who was flying toward him after collecting a pass from the other side. Skapski's third save was his best of the first period. He stopped Tyler Ennis on a breakaway, with Marc Staal harassing from behind at 6:16. At the end of the period, the Rangers had 23 shot attempts to eight for the Sabres. There were 11 misses by the Rangers.
In the Rangers' 19th game without Henrik Lundqvist, the Blueshirts are 14-2-3 and have scored 60 goals and allowed 42. They are 5-0-1 in the last six.
Skapski, a confident kid, has been a pleasant surprise.
"I think my development's really gone a long ways compared to if I were in Hartford playing games," Skapski, who was 12-7-3 with a .914 save percentage in the AHL, said before the game. "A lot of other people might argue that, but I feel being around the practices, getting a taste of the NHL is important."