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Rangers fail to clinch playoff berth in 4-3 loss to Sabres

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Buffalo Sabres' Zemgus Girgensons shoots the puck past Henrik Lundqvist in the second period.Frank Franklin II/AP

Buffalo Sabres’ Zemgus Girgensons shoots the puck past Henrik Lundqvist in the second period.

The Rangers’ playoff berth is not going to clinch itself, although maybe it will have to.

For the Blueshirts were justifiably booed off the ice at the end of Saturday night’s first period at the Garden, and a subpar version of Henrik Lundqvist was benched in the early second period of a miserable third straight defeat, this one 4-3 to the Buffalo Sabres.

The Rangers (43-26-9, 95 points, four to play) failed for the second time in three nights to punch their postseason ticket, needing only a regulation or overtime win to qualify. Detroit also won in Toronto, 3-2, so the Rangers’ magic number to clinch remains at three (any combination of points gained by the Rangers or lost by Detroit adding up to that number) unless they win without a shootout to seal a tiebreaker over the Atlantic Division’s Red Wings or Bruins.

“I have to make the extra save, and in the first period and the first minute of the second, I did not,” said Lundqvist (three goals on nine shots) after his sixth benching of the season 46 seconds into the middle period.

J.T. Miller and Derek Stepan scored to close a three-goal deficit to 4-3 by the 4:52 mark of the third period, but the Blueshirts’ power play (0-for-3) failed to beat Sabres goalie Chad Johnson (33 saves) on a two-man advantage with under eight minutes to play that managed just three shots on goal.

Backup Antti Raanta (14 saves on 15 shots) gave the home team a better chance in relief, but ex-Islander Matt Moulson’s goal off a misplayed handoff by Raanta and Keith Yandle at 13:09 of the second held up as the game-winner.

“At the end there, it’s 4-3, we have a 5-on-3 for two minutes and we don’t score,” Mats Zuccarello said. “That’s not gonna win hockey games.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins (98 points, four to play), meanwhile, blasted the Islanders, 5-0, at Barclays Center Saturday afternoon to clinch, building a three-point lead on the third-place Rangers for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and potential home ice in a first-round series.

Alain Vigneault’s Blueshirts are actually closer in the standings to the wild-card Isles (93 points, five to play) — whom they host once more next Thursday — than they are to the Pens.

Lundqvist, captain Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein were the primary culprits on the Sabres’ first three goals, by Buffalo captain Ryan O’Reilly (two) in the first period and Zemgus Girgensons. Lundqvist coughed up two rebound goals, and McDonagh was out of position and losing pucks.

“I have to take a lot of blame for the first three goals,” McDonagh said. “I wasn’t executing nearly the way I needed to help give this team a good chance. I am very disappointed with myself.”

The Rangers at least had a pulse at the start, more than they could say of Thursday night’s 4-3 loss in Carolina.

“We were a lot better than we were in Carolina in the first period,” Marc Staal said. “That’s not saying much.”

But one thing went wrong and everything fell apart. Vigneault said his team’s “individual preparation,” which had lacked against the Hurricanes, is “(the) players’ responsibility.” Clearly that was a problem again for his team, and yet the locker room was quite optimistic — perhaps because the only recourse the Rangers have in order to survive is to try to find the good.

Kevin Hayes and Eric Staal did combine for Hayes’ goal 2:58 into the second to make this a competitive game. Then McDonagh and Klein contributed on Miller’s and Stepan’s goals. It was just too late.

“I think they get some good bounces on the puck and some misreads from us,” Zuccarello said of the early deficit. “I think we’re playing a better period (than in Carolina), we’re just down 2-0. S— happens. We tried to come back. I don’t think we played a terrible game, but they get some lucky goals, and that’s hockey sometimes.”

The Rangers’ playoff berth is not going to clinch itself, although maybe it will have to.

For the Blueshirts were justifiably booed off the ice at the end of Saturday night’s first period at the Garden, and a subpar version of Henrik Lundqvist was benched in the early second period of a miserable third straight defeat, this one 4-3 to the Buffalo Sabres.

The Rangers (43-26-9, 95 points, four to play) failed for the second time in three nights to punch their postseason ticket, needing only a regulation or overtime win to qualify. Detroit also won in Toronto, 3-2, so the Rangers’ magic number to clinch remains at three (any combination of points gained by the Rangers or lost by Detroit adding up to that number) unless they win without a shootout to seal a tiebreaker over the Atlantic Division’s Red Wings or Bruins.

“I have to make the extra save, and in the first period and the first minute of the second, I did not,” said Lundqvist (three goals on nine shots) after his sixth benching of the season 46 seconds into the middle period.

J.T. Miller and Derek Stepan scored to close a three-goal deficit to 4-3 by the 4:52 mark of the third period, but the Blueshirts’ power play (0-for-3) failed to beat Sabres goalie Chad Johnson (33 saves) on a two-man advantage with under eight minutes to play that managed just three shots on goal.

Backup Antti Raanta (14 saves on 15 shots) gave the home team a better chance in relief, but ex-Islander Matt Moulson’s goal off a misplayed handoff by Raanta and Keith Yandle at 13:09 of the second held up as the game-winner.

“At the end there, it’s 4-3, we have a 5-on-3 for two minutes and we don’t score,” Mats Zuccarello said. “That’s not gonna win hockey games.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins (98 points, four to play), meanwhile, blasted the Islanders, 5-0, at Barclays Center Saturday afternoon to clinch, building a three-point lead on the third-place Rangers for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and potential home ice in a first-round series.

Alain Vigneault’s Blueshirts are actually closer in the standings to the wild-card Isles (93 points, five to play) — whom they host once more next Thursday — than they are to the Pens.

Lundqvist, captain Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein were the primary culprits on the Sabres’ first three goals, by Buffalo captain Ryan O’Reilly (two) in the first period and Zemgus Girgensons. Lundqvist coughed up two rebound goals, and McDonagh was out of position and losing pucks.

“I have to take a lot of blame for the first three goals,” McDonagh said. “I wasn’t executing nearly the way I needed to help give this team a good chance. I am very disappointed with myself.”

The Rangers at least had a pulse at the start, more than they could say of Thursday night’s 4-3 loss in Carolina.

“We were a lot better than we were in Carolina in the first period,” Marc Staal said. “That’s not saying much.”

But one thing went wrong and everything fell apart. Vigneault said his team’s “individual preparation,” which had lacked against the Hurricanes, is “(the) players’ responsibility.” Clearly that was a problem again for his team, and yet the locker room was quite optimistic — perhaps because the only recourse the Rangers have in order to survive is to try to find the good.

Kevin Hayes and Eric Staal did combine for Hayes’ goal 2:58 into the second to make this a competitive game. Then McDonagh and Klein contributed on Miller’s and Stepan’s goals. It was just too late.

“I think they get some good bounces on the puck and some misreads from us,” Zuccarello said of the early deficit. “I think we’re playing a better period (than in Carolina), we’re just down 2-0. S— happens. We tried to come back. I don’t think we played a terrible game, but they get some lucky goals, and that’s hockey sometimes.”

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