Anderson looks to take a bite out of The Big Apple

Anderson looks to take a bite out of The Big Apple

When Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson stares down the ice Thursday night at Madison Square Garden to open the playoffs, he’ll be looking at the King of New York.

That would be Henrik Lundqvist, a top candidate to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top regular season netminder, the guy Anderson labels as “the backbone” to the New York Rangers success.

Beyond that, Lundqvist is Mr. GQ, stylish to a fault and with the good looks to match, making him the ideal poster boy in the Big Apple.

And now, on the eve of the playoffs, he has also become a Sports Illustrated cover boy, with the magazine suggesting that Lundqvist might be the only player capable of stopping the Pittsburgh Penguins run to another Stanley Cup. (For those who believe in superstitions, that might be a lucky break for the Senators, because the SI curse has haunted countless teams and athletes over the years).

Yet while Lundqvist is taking centre stage in the centre of the entertainment universe, Anderson has been allowed to rather quietly slip into New York, despite his 6-0-0 career record at Madison Square Garden.

Rather than being intimidated by the environment, Anderson is embracing it.

“It’s one of the best arenas in the history of hockey, the history of basketball and…concerts,” Anderson said following practice at Scotiabank Place Wednesday, before the team boarded its charter flight to New York. “I mean it’s New York City, it’s the central platform for everything. The fans are excited there. They bring energy. The building has a lot of history. When you’re walking through the city, you realize how much of an impact that arena has on that city.”

Anderson is ready for the rowdiness, saying the Senators have handled the heat in opposition rinks all season. The Senators were 21-14-6 on the road and 20-17-4 at home during the regular season.

“Anything you can use to motivate you in a positive way, you’ve got to use,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of Rangers fans, a lot of guys yelling at you. We kind of thrive on that. I think (Jason) Spezza was being yelled at by the Winnipeg fans (during a crucial 6-4 win on March 26) and all of a sudden, he toe-dragged four guys and passed it to (Kyle) Turris. I think we have a team that thrives off the energy in other buildings.”

In terms of a pure head-to-head match-up, Lundqvist’s numbers easily outshine those of Anderson. The Rangers goaltender finished third among NHL goalies in both save percentage (.930) and wins (39) and his goals against average of 1.97 was fourth in the league. Anderson sported a 2.84 average, .914 save percentage and had 33 wins, somewhat misleading because he missed a month due to his kitchen accident.

The Rangers, however, have embraced a defensive mentality, taking pride in blocking as many shots as possible and in grinding out low-scoring victories. The Senators are more comfortable with a run-and-gun style, confident that when the game ends, Anderson will have allowed one less goal than the opponent’s goalie.

“He’s an elite goaltender in this league that’s got a lot of experience and played real well for us all year,” said Spezza. “We feel that when he’s on top of the game, he’s as good as anyone in the league.”

Anderson’s playoff experience is limited and bitter-sweet. As the netminder for an overmatched Colorado Avalanche team in 2010, he lost a six-game series to the San Jose Sharks, a series which included a brilliant Anderson performance in a 1-0 overtime victory. Anderson says he’s not nearly as nervous as he was before that series.

Lundqvist, meanwhile, has a spotty playoff resume with the Rangers, sporting a 15-20 record with a 2.60 goals against average.

In order to beat him, Senators coach Paul MacLean believes the Senators have to crank up their battle level in order to fight through the Rangers tough defensive mindset, shooting as much as possible.

Generally speaking, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson says he tries to find an edge by looking for “tendencies” of particular goaltenders and he knows Lundqvist well. The two won a Swedish Elite League title together with Frolunda during the 2004-05 lockout.

“If you get a chance, you’ve kind of already made up your mind about what you’re going to do, but other than that, I’ve got a few spots that I like to shoot at, if I’ve got time,” said Alfredsson, acknowledging that Lundqvist knows him, too. “I’m sure he does. If it was just one (spot), I would be worried. But now, he can try and guess.”

Anderson, meanwhile, is buoyed by having played well in his seven games since returning from cutting his finger and believes there’s a mutual respect between him and the players in front of him.

“My goal is to make the next save for the guys, to give them the confidence that they can play loose and not so uptight that they can’t make a mistake. Everybody is going to make mistakes and I want to make sure I’m there when they do make mistakes.”

Anderson also realizes he’s in a goaltending duel with the face of New York, but that hasn’t been an issue for him in the past.

“Lundqvist is a top tier goaltender in this league,” he said. “He has been the guy they’ve relied on, that gives them an opportunity every night. My goal is just to equal him or better him and give my team a chance to win.”

 

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