NEW YORK (AP) Rick Nash scored the winning goal with 1:42 left, on New York's third shot of the third period, and the Rangers improved their chances for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a 2-1 victory over the NHL-worst Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.
The Rangers struggled throughout against the lowly Sabres and goalie Matt Hackett, who played in just his seventh NHL game of the season.
Nash fired a one-timer off a cross-zone feed from Martin St. Louis, and sent the puck past Hackett's glove to break the 1-1 tie for his 26th goal. The Rangers then killed a late penalty against Brian Boyle, the third Sabres power play of the third period.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 23 shots in the win, New York's last home game of the season. The Rangers' final game is at Montreal on Saturday.
The Rangers entered Thursday with a two-point lead over Philadelphia and Columbus in the race for second place in the Metropolitan Division. One of those teams will be New York's first-round opponent.
Hackett made 28 saves for the Sabres, 2-15-1 in their last 18 games.
The Rangers dominated the Sabres 18-1 in shots in the second period, yet had only a 1-1 tie to show for it. Buffalo recorded the first five shots of the game, and New York didn't record its first until Pouliot's partial breakaway 7:30 in.
However, the Rangers had a 27-13 edge through 40 minutes.
The Sabres made the most of their only second-period shot and grabbed a 1-0 lead on it with 10:54 left in the period. Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber drifted backward with the puck from the right circle toward the blue line, and flipped a shot toward the Rangers net. Stafford, stationed in front of Lundqvist, got enough of his stick on it to deflect it into the net for his 16th goal of the season.
New York did nothing with its two power plays in the first period or its next two in the second after a two-goal performance with the man advantage Tuesday against Carolina.
It took until there were only 30.4 seconds left in the middle frame to get even with the Sabres.
Hackett had been tough up until then, including shaking off a hard one-timer off the stick of Brad Richards that struck him flush in the forehead portion of his mask with 2:11 remaining in the period. After being briefly attended to on the ice by medical personnel, Hackett got up off his knees and stayed in the game.
Pouliot took a pass across the Sabres zone in the left circle and fired a drive past Hackett to tie it. It was Pouliot's 15th goal of the season and third in five games.
NOTES: Lundqvist had a run of 26 minutes, 32 seconds between saves - spanning from the first period until the third. ... Stafford and Sabres D Henrik Tallinder both returned to the lineup after missing four games each due to injury. Stafford has six goals and nine points in his past 13 games. ... The Rangers didn't record their first shot in the third period until Carl Hagelin's attempt with 6:20 left. ... New York didn't take a penalty until the third period. In Tuesday's win, the Rangers were unpenalized in a full game for the first time since Jan. 10, 2012, against Phoenix.