The Rangers left Madison Square Garden Sunday night with two points and seething resentment for Patrick Kaleta.
Kaleta’s dangerous hit from behind on Brad Richards 3:28 into the third period directly led to two power play goals in the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres.
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Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan beat Ryan Miller in the one-on-one. Henrik Lundqvist stoned Jason Pominville and Tyler Ennis to get the win.
Kaleta drove Richards face-first into the half boards as the Rangers were on a power play. The center grimaced in pain for 90 seconds while Kaleta was given a 10-minute misconduct and a five-minute major for boarding.
Richards missed one shift, but did return to the game.
“That’s not a hit that was ever in the game,” Richards said. “That’s a little different than a head shot. That’s just stupidity. It’s not hockey. I don’t know what game he plays, actually. He doesn’t play hockey to begin with. It’s the same guy all the time.”
The senseless hit from behind energized both the building and the team, both of which were lifeless up to that point. Derek Stepan and Nash scored back-to-back power play goals in a 43-second span to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. The Rangers went 2-for-4 on the power play.
“It pisses you off and gets you angry,” said Marc Staal, who received praise from head coach John Tortorella for his role in killing all five Buffalo power plays. “It was a cheap hit. The biggest thing is that you want to hurt them and [we] were able to get two. It doesn’t do that hit any kind of justice but it was nice to score on the power play
“I played against him in juniors and played against him a lot. He does a lot of those hits and cheap shots, and a lot of time he doesn’t back it up, either. He either gets kicked out and you don’t see him for a month or he sits on the bench for the rest of the game. It was a dangerous play.”
However, Nathan Gerbe drew the Sabres even at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal. Drew Stafford opened the scoring 8:04 into the second.
The Rangers started strong with 23 attempted shots, including seven on goal, in the first period. However, the Rangers appeared to plateau in a soporific second period and entered the second intermission trailing by a goal.
“I don’t really think we played poorly at any point,” Stepan said. “The word plateau is pretty good. Maybe we were a little flat. Maybe it was the flow of the game. I felt a lot of pucks went out of play tonight. Stuff like that added up and just kind of flatlined us a little bit.”
“It was like one of those Montreal games,” Tortorella said. “I wouldn’t say it was from a lack of effort from our club. It was one of those games where you couldn’t generate much offense. You don’t want to put yourself in that situation in the third period but we found a way to win it, so that helps us.”
He saved his strongest words for the Kaleta hit.
“It’s probably one of the most dangerous hits I’ve seen. It’s ridiculous. It’s disgusting,” Tortorella said. “It’s a lack of respect. Each team wants to beat the other team, but you need to respect what’s going on, on the ice.”
It is likely Kaleta will have a hearing, either in person or over the phone, with the NHL Department of Player Safety Monday.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.