Deciding game ‘an opportunity to do something great’

The stage is big and the stakes are enormous, but the equation couldn’t be much simpler as the Ottawa Senators left Scotiabank Place for Thursday’s Game 7 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Deciding game ‘an opportunity to do something great’

The stage is big and the stakes are enormous, but the equation couldn’t be much simpler as the Ottawa Senators left Scotiabank Place for Thursday’s Game 7 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Lose and they immediately fly home, wondering about what might have been.

Win and they’ll immediately be travelling to either Florida or Philadelphia, setting up shop on the road to start Game 1 of the second round in a series that is expected to start on Saturday.

Captain Daniel Alfredsson labels it as “a great challenge.” Star defenceman Erik Karlsson says “it’s going to be like nothing else.” Goaltender Craig Anderson, who might very well have the final word in whether the Senators unlikely season advances into May, claims “it’s an opportunity to do something great.”

On Wednesday, any lingering feelings of disappointment about failing to close out the Rangers in Game 6 on Monday was long gone, as was talk about Alfredsson’s uncharacteristic meltdown.

Instead, the attitude was all about looking ahead and making the most of playing in the spotlight of a Game 7, a situation every player dreamed about growing up.

“You always want to play in high-pressure situations,” said Anderson, who owns an 8-1 career record at Madison Square Garden, including a 41-save shutout in Saturday’s Game 5 victory. “We’re grown adults, but we’re still kids inside. We’re always pushing forward for that next battle, that next pressure point.”

Throughout the regular season, the Senators always found a way to rally and salvage a victory when a playoff appearance appeared to be slipping away. Coach Paul MacLean, upset that his team didn’t show the necessary desperation to close out the Rangers in Game 6, believes that several players have “elevated their game” in the post-season.

“It has been a different guy every night,” he said. “The second game (Chris) Neil has a great game and (Kyle) Turris scores in overtime (in Game 4) and the defence corps of Sergei (Gonchar) and Filip (Kuba) and Chris Phillips have come out and played real well and Anderson has been real consistent.”

Yet at the risk of putting too much pressure on the shoulders of the 21-year-old Karlsson, who is expected to be named a Norris Trophy finalist Thursday, MacLean is challenging his star defenceman to showcase more of his talent.

“We just need him to be him,” said MacLean. “When (Karlsson) skates, is obviously when he’s at his best and in the last game, I’m not sure he skated…he hasn’t skated the way he can skate and (Thursday), we need him to use his skill as a skater to create offence.”

Karlsson, limited to only one goal in the series — an attempted pass that bounced off the leg of Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto in Game 2 — acknowledges that he has “probably not” been happy with his play so far.

“I want to produce more and do more stuff, but sometimes you’re going to have do something else to help the team win,” he said. “So, if that’s throwing hits or blocking shots or playing good defensively, you’ve got to do what you have to, to win the games. Offensively, right now, it’s tough, we score only one or two goals every game.”

While Karlsson says it’s important to play with “desperation,” he also says that has to come within the structure of the team’s system and that “we can’t get ahead of ourselves.”

Alfredsson says the Senators have to keep pushing, believing they cost themselves a chance to win in Game 6 by backing off when they took an early lead.

“We have to stay aggressive,” he said. “(Earlier in the series) we’ve done a good job of pushing the pace a little more, getting more pressure in their end and not giving them much time breaking out.”

You can look at one set of statistics or another and come up with different conclusions to determine who might win the deciding game, but the Senators aren’t getting too caught up in any of them. All they know is that they’ve been comfortable playing away from home all season long and Thursday isn’t any different.

“There’s something to be said about going into another building and upsetting the home fans,” said Anderson. “You thrive on pressure, you thrive on someone telling you that you can’t win. When the other fans say you can’t win, it’s one of those, ‘I’m going to show you in your own building.’ That’s kind of how the hockey player’s mentality works. We’re all pretty competitive guys.”

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