Vitali Kravtsov made his NHL debut Saturday night in Buffalo, another piece in the Rangers’ rebuilding puzzle sliding into place.
Artemi Panarin, who signed the largest contract in franchise history less than two years ago to accelerate the reconstruction, showed the highly anticipated prospect how it’s done, by scoring two goals.
But a late third-period goal from the Sabres for the second game in a row tied the score and Kravtsov’s debut was spoiled as the Rangers lost 3-2 in a shootout — the Sabres’ second win in three games after an 18-game losing streak.
The Rangers held a slim one-goal lead with 3:41 left in regulation when Victor Olofsson tied it up 2-2, sending both teams to overtime again after they had played the extra period Thursday (which ended up a 3-2 Rangers win).
After both teams failed to score in the extra session, the Rangers failed to score in the shootout against Linus Ullmak. The Sabres’ Tage Thompson, meanwhile, scored past Igor Shesterkin to give Buffalo the victory.
Despite the loss, Kravtsovv’s debut gave the Rangers’ youth movement another addition, and the lineup now has five of the Blueshirts’ first-round picks from the last four NHL drafts: Filip Chytil from 2017, K’Andre Miller and Kravtsov from 2018, Kaapo Kakko from 2019 and Alexis Lafreniere from 2020.
Kravtsov slotted in on the Rangers’ third line, bringing a whole new meaning to what has been commonly referred to as the kid line. Next to Lafreniere (19) and Chytil (21), the 21-year-old winger logged 10:45 of ice time, with three shots on goal.
The average age of the Rangers’ active roster now stands at 25.2 years old. Does it even need to be pointed out anymore that they have the youngest team in the league?
Not every NHL debut can be special, but Kravtsov’s presence made it so for the Rangers. And when he nearly won the game with a diving shot shortly after the Sabres’ game-tying tally, it almost was a dream debut. After Kravtsov’s five-game cameo in the preseason last year, in which he recorded a goal and an assist, the Russian native has now proven he’s ready for the NHL.
The Rangers, following a hyperactive start to the first period, slowed things down on the power play when Sabres forward Taylor Hall went to the box for interference. Panarin netted the Rangers’ first man-advantage goal in the last two games with a sharp-angled shot that deflected in off Ullmark for a 1-0 lead.
But Casey Mittelstadt tied it less than three minutes later, converting a 2-on-1 with a wicked wrister that beat Shesterkin stick-side.
The Sabres held the advantage for a majority of the second period, maintaining possession in their offensive zone after the Rangers took back-to-back penalties early on. Shesterkin kept the Rangers in it, turning aside all 10 shots on goal he faced in the middle frame.
As Shesterkin stood tall, the Rangers titled the ice after Panarin notched his second goal of the night, one-timing the puck past Ullmark with just over two minutes left in the second period to retake the lead. The Sabres challenged for offside, but lost and were forced to go on the penalty kill to end the period.
Jacob Trouba nearly gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead to take into the third, but time expired before the defenseman put the puck in.
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