NEW YORK -- They had seemed listless at times through two scoreless periods, but the New York Rangers fumed when one of their leaders went down early in the third. They watched forward Brad Richards writhe on the ice, on his back, the victim of what Rangers coach John Tortorella would later call "one of the most dangerous hits I've ever seen."
Buffalo Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta sent the Rangers alternate captain flying head first into the boards with a check from behind. Several Rangers would verbalize that anger after their emotionally charged 3-2 shootout win Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
On the ice, the Rangers responded quickly, scoring two goals on the extended power play within a minute of each other after the five-minute major game misconduct penalty.
Rick Nash would eventually lead them to the shootout win, scoring once in the shootout, once in regulation and adding an assist.
The Sabres, who had won three games in a row, managed to counter the Rangers' third-period flurry with a goal to tie it 2-2 on Nathan Gerbe's one-timer, but squandered several power-play opportunities at the end of regulation and in overtime.
Nash and Callahan then scored in the shootout for the Rangers (10-8-2) on nifty deke moves, with both players putting the puck just inside the right post past Ryan Miller. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stopped Jason Pominville and Tyler Ennis for Buffalo (9-12-2) to clinch the victory.
Buffalo could only take solace in salvaging a point while playing without injured leading scorer Thomas Vanek for the second straight game. But the Sabres soon could be without Kaleta, who will surely draw attention from the league's department of player safety.
After the game, Richards -- who was able to return a few minutes after the hit -- and the Rangers were as quick to pounce on Kaleta verbally as they were to make the Sabres pay on the scoreboard.
"It's ridiculous. That's what I thought," Tortorella said of the hit, which came at 3:28 of the third with the Sabres up 1-0. "That's great. I'm glad we made them pay. It's disgusting. It's a lack of respect."
Several Rangers ripped not just that incident, which will surely draw attention from the league's department of player safety, but Kaleta's overall reputation, as he has been called out by opponents for rough play in the past.
Richards called the play "just stupidity" on Kaleta's part.
"It's not hockey," Richards said, after saying he felt "very fortunate so far" when asked how he felt. "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."
"It (expletive) you off and gets you angry. It was a cheap hit," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "The biggest thing is that you want to hurt them and we were able to get two. It doesn't do that kind of hit any 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 times, 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."
Kaleta, through a team spokesman, declined to speak. While Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston called Kaleta "a heart and soul guy for us" and said he hadn't gotten a good look at the play, Miller acknowledged his teammate had made a mistake.
While saying he didn't believe the hit to be intentional, Miller said "you don't like to see that type of hit and we paid the price."
With Buffalo up 1-0 early in the third, Kaleta shoved Richards hard and the Rangers forward landed head first into the boards by the left faceoff circle in the Sabres' zone.
Richards remained on his back for several moments as Callahan got into a shoving match in defense of his teammate.
After getting attended to by a trainer, Richards got up after a few moments as Kaleta went off with the five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
"I didn't have a lot of thoughts; I was just trying to breathe," Richards said, when asked for his thoughts on the play at the time.
Thanks to a hooking penalty on Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera 32 seconds earlier, New York went on a 5-on-3. Struggling for most of the season on the power play, the emotion-charged Rangers quickly cashed in -- twice.
Stepan tied the game 1-1 seven seconds after Kaleta's penalty, on a pretty tic-tac-toe play. Stepan, taking feeds from Nash and Marian Gaborik, poked it inside the left post from close range.
Forty-three seconds later, still on the power play due to the five-minute major, the Rangers went up 2-1 on Nash's wrist shot from the right faceoff circle after a nice pass from Gaborik, with Michael Del Zotto also getting an assist.
Richards recovered enough to get back on the ice shortly after as the adrenaline-fueled crowd chanted for the Rangers -- until the Sabres silenced it four minutes later with a shorthanded goal.
Off a pass from Steve Ott, Gerbe knocked a one-timer past Lundqvist in the waning seconds of the Rangers' power play for a shorthanded goal. Lundqvist banged his stick in frustration as the game was tied 2-2 at 11:41.