The stage was set for a grand Senate party, but the guests spoiled the fun.
Staring elimination in the face, the New York Rangers walked into Scotiabank Place, “on the ropes,” as some described it, but walked out of it very much alive in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal, after beating a slightly discombobulated Senators team 3-2 in Game 6.
The eighth-place Senators and their fans have enjoyed this unexpected playoff round so much, the run has been extended: to Game 7, Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Winner advances.
Not that this was the Senators chosen path, it is their fallback option. And they may regret, dearly, that Game 7 was even necessary. Frustration showed in the third period, with captain Daniel Alfredsson smashing his stick and stomping on a water bottle on the Senators bench. Top centre Jason Spezza was only on the ice for three shifts in the third period and head coach Paul MacLean, disappointed with his team’s play for all but the final six minutes, noted of Spezza, “he’s not injured.”
Not the evening expected by a capacity crowd at SBP set to explode if Ottawa could have clinched Round One at home, which hasn’t happened since late April of 2007. Alas, the Rangers and the pride of a first place club had something to say about it.
In what appeared to be the perfect party scene, Ottawa’s captain returned for what was to be a joyous occassion. Out since Game 2 with a concussion, Alfredsson announced on the morning of Game 6 he was returning to the lineup after a Game 2 concussion.
The first Alfredsson roar went up when he skated out for the pre-game warmup. The second Alfredsson cheer wasn’t for dad but his kids – Hugo and Loui, who skated out before the anthem carrying Senators flags.
The crowd ignited again when Alfredsson skated out for his first shift early in the first period.
“You have to play every game like it’s the biggest game of the year,” Alfredsson said about the playoff mindset.
With a chance to clinch on home ice, Game 6 was Ottawa’s biggest game in five years, and just as big in Sweden, with Alfredsson returning to a lineup that already contains Swedish defence sensation, Erik Karlsson, and now freshly arrived from conquering the Swedish Elite League, 21-year-old winger, Jakob Silfverberg.
Silfverberg only just return from his Swedish playoff adventure late Sunday afternoon, but the Senators opted to instantly insert him into the lineup.
Maybe they thought the Rangers would go away quietly, but MacLean said his team seemed “distracted” throughout the game and “played catch up” against the Rangers.
Composure was an issue for the Senators, who took eight penalties, including a two-man disadvantage in the second period.
“It’s a tough call to put a team down 5-on-3 in a real tight series,” Spezza said. “We haven’t seen of those yet.”
Deflecting a Sergei Gonchar shot, Neil had staked the Senators to the early lead they wanted, but the Rangers fought back with three goals in the second period.
Asked about how the start of the game might shape the outcome, Rangers goaltender Lundqvist said: “All that matters is how you finish it.”
The Rangers finished it by responding with their first win since Game 3′s 1-0 shutout.
Before the game, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said:
“We don’t want the season to end.”
He played like it. And so did a few other Rangers that had been passengers to this point. Derek Stepan, Brad Richards and rookie Chris Kreider scored the New York goals. A goal by Spezza off a wild scramble with 38 seconds to go in regulation made things interesting. Upon review, it was deemed inconclusive, whether Neil had kicked the puck in after booting Lundqvist’s glove.
“It’s a joke, somebody wanted them them back in the game,” Lundqvist said.
Ottawa had its chances to build on a first period lead, but several times they tried to make a cute play instead of just throwing pucks at the net.
Spezza was among those who passed up on shooting chances, though he did help draw a Rangers penalty when he swooped behind the New York net and a cross check ensued out front.
“We want to get off to a great start and try to take away their will, right away,” Spezza had said.
Stealing the Rangers will proved to be more difficult than gaining a lead.
Despite the loss, the Senators remain the lone Canadian-based team still active in the NHL playoffs.
“You just want to be the last team standing, period,” Spezza said.
For now, they still have that chance, but will have to do it the long way, at MSG, where they have enjoyed two wins in this series.
Game 7: The faint of heart need not apply.