NEW YORK — Remember when the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers didn’t know each other well enough to generate hatred?
That seems to have passed. So has the Rangers’ lead in a series no one is calling boring anymore. A Chris Neil overtime winner has pumped life into the Senators and this NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal, tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 in Ottawa on Monday.
“That was huge for us,” Senators goaltender Craig Anderson said. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we got the series tied, so it’s heading in the right direction.”
It was the late Conn Smythe who said his Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t beat teams on the ice if they couldn’t “beat ’em in the alley.”
The Senators took a page out of the major’s book in Game 2 of their series with the Rangers. The “Johnstown” Senators won many battles, stirred fan passions and gave themselves a more realistic shot at winning the war, although they lost the services of captain Daniel Alfredsson in a vicious game.
Bent on avenging the Rangers Brian Boyle taking liberties on Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson in a 4-2 Game 1 loss, the Sens chose to “unleash the hounds” as Mr. Burns used to say on The Simpsons.
Starting a Physical Five opening lineup of Neil, Zack Smith and Zenon Konopka with Matt Carkner and Jared Cowen on defence, the Senators opted for muscle over skill, repeatedly targeting Boyle. Just over two minutes into the game, Carkner’s night was done, given 17 minutes in penalties plus a game misconduct for attacking and drilling Boyle, not relenting as the 6-7 forward was on the ice. Brandon Dubinsky of the Rangers was ejected, too, for jumping in to defend Boyle.
When the dust settled over at the timekeeper’s bench, the Senators played shorthanded for a full five minutes, and they survived it, partly because the Rangers’ power play can be listless. The kill inspired the visitors, but they weren’t done with Boyle. Minutes later, Neil fought him.
Boyle got a later laugh, but not the last one, scoring the go-ahead goal less than three minutes into the third period. Nick Foligno got it back, sending the game into overtime by chipping a puck over Lundqvist with 4:37 left in regulation. This was one of those games that suggested OT all night long.
By the time the teams got around to playing any hockey in this slugfest, the Senators had spent minimal time in the Rangers’ zone, killing off penalties, and they were behind 1-0, on the strength of Anton Stralman’s first career playoff goal.
The Rangers had numerous chances to go up by two goals, including myriad puck adventures in and around the goal crease of Anderson, but, after the Stralman goal, Anderson settled in, catching a break when a puck leaked behind him, but was swept out of danger.
By the middle of the second period, the calls started going Ottawa’s way. A brutal elbow to the head of Alfredsson by Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin resulted in a five-minute major, which the Senators used to get back in the game. Alfredsson left the ice and did not return for the third period or overtime, but his team rallied around him for the victory.
“That’s playoff hockey,” Senators centre Jason Spezza said. “Big goals from different guys. It was intense. That’s how we have to play if we want to have success.”
It wasn’t exactly a classic Karlsson goal, but the young defensive star celebrated as though it was, crouching low and pumping his fist after his second period shot was booted into the New York net by Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto. In disgust, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist swung his stick and kicked his leg, but there was no getting it back. Soccer kick … own goal..
Karlsson was criticized by head coach Paul MacLean for not skating enough in Game 1 on Thursday night.
“I’ve got to put rockets on my skates,” Karlsson said, with a smile after the morning skate. True to his word, Karlsson was flying Saturday night, especially late in the game, when he hardly left the ice.
“I’d like to score 10 goals and 15 assists, but that’s not going to happen probably,” Karlsson said. No, but as desperate as the Senators were at the moment, that one goal felt like 10.
Precisely two minutes after he scored, Karlsson suckered Rangers forward Brad Richards into a penalty, boarding Richards and getting away with it, then getting a whack back from Richards to the head that cost New York another man disadvantage. The Senators want to go after Richards for that very reason. He will retaliate.
In the hours before the game, the Senators were spewing out catch words like “intensity” and “aggression.”
“We have to be the aggressor,” the usually mild-mannered Spezza said. “Don’t sit back and let them be the aggressor. When we push the pace, we’re a good hockey club.”
With Ottawa’s fourth straight OT win on the road, the Senators pushed themselves into the series split they needed.