New York salutes captain; Buffalo preserves hope


NEW YORK (AP) -- Mark Messier scored a goal and then was given a
hero's salute Wednesday night in what could have been his last home
game with the New York Rangers.

Messier admitted after the game that he was leaning toward
retirement, although he insisted he still hadn't completely made up
his mind.

"I guess there's no blueprint for something like this,"
Messier said. "I didn't know what to expect myself. It would have
been a lot simpler, a lot easier if I had come out a month ago and
announced [my retirement]. It would have been a lot less stress.
Any time you make a decision of this importance, it should be made
with a clear mind."

Messier's 694th NHL goal in his 1,756th game wasn't enough as the
Rangers lost 4-3 to the Buffalo Sabres, who stayed alive in the
Eastern Conference playoff race.

"We knew they were going to come out hard to play for Mark,"
goaltender Martin Biron said. "The win is a big plus for us right
now. We're not going to beat ourselves. Yes, we need help, but we
need to win our games."

Messier, the New York captain, tied it at 1 when he scored his
18th of the season with 57 seconds left in the first period.

"To play against him in maybe his last NHL game, it might have
been his last goal," Buffalo center Daniel Briere said. "It's
pretty sweet to be there."

When the game ended, both teams stayed on the ice to tap their
sticks and applaud the likely future Hall of Famer. Messier skated
around, waving to the adoring crowd while wiping away tears.

"I guess the great part about it is being able to share it with
not only your teammates but the fans," Messier said. "The fans
have been nothing but tremendously loyal. That's one of the great
things about playing sports, is being able to share it with a lot
of people."

Messier is completing his 25th NHL season, in which he won six
Stanley Cups -- including the 1994 title that gave the Rangers their
first championship in 54 years. He usually waits until late in the
summer to decide whether to continue his career, and he said he still
plans to do the same this year.

"If I did think in my mind it was it, then I would have set a
lot more plans and preparations a month ago," he said. "I just
didn't know completely in my heart that that was the case and
didn't want to put myself in a situation if I did that come
September perhaps would want to play again."

Messier was chosen as the game's first star with his family in
the stands and former teammate Mike Richter in the locker room.
When Messier took off his sweater, the only message he had for his
current teammates was "good luck with your careers."

Messier played after missing four games, two because of a
suspension following a spearing penalty, and the previous two
because of a bruised elbow. It was not immediately known whether
the 43-year-old center would play Saturday at Washington when the
Rangers complete their seventh straight non-playoff season.

"I didn't feel great out there," he admitted. "I hadn't
skated much in the last seven or eight games. I just wanted to try
to play hard."

The Sabres are still holding out hope they can reach the
postseason. They trail the New York Islanders by three points, and both teams have two games left to play.

"We're not completely out of it," Briere said. "We're going
to need help now."

Jochen Hecht scored a pair of goals 21 seconds apart to break
open a tie and assisted on two other goals to lead the Sabres.

Buffalo took a 1-0 lead 3:59 in on Briere's 27th goal. Briere
found a seam in the defense, took a pass from Hecht from behind the
net and beat Mike Dunham with a quick wrist shot.

Messier tied it when he parked himself to the left of the net,
took a cross-ice pass from Jozef Balej and chipped the puck over diving Biron.

Hecht made it 2-1 at 3:27 of the second period when he skated in on Dunham and collided with the goaltender. He then poked a shot in as he fell to the ice. Hecht scored again at 3:48 after Karel Rachunek turned the puck over in the Rangers' zone.

Thomas Pock pulled the Rangers within 3-2 with his second NHL
goal at 11:00 of the second.

Buffalo went ahead 4-2 on Dmitri Kalinin's 10th at 2:56 of the
third period.

Josh Green made it 4-3 at 9:12 with a back-handed conversion of
a rebound from right in front.

New York's Jaromir Jagr left in the second period with a
strained hip.

Game notes
Messier started the game and got a standing ovation when
the lineup was announced. ... Fans held signs reading "Bless the
Mess," "One More Year Mess" and "Messier Forever" ... Messier
had 25 goals and 55 assists in 73 games against Buffalo. ...
Buffalo forward Miroslav Satan has 18 goals and 14 assists in 33
career games against New York. ... In their last 11 games, the
Sabres have outscored opponents 13-3 in the first period.