NEW YORK – For two years, fans of the Ottawa Senators have looked forward to seeing their team in a playoff game again.
Now they’d like to erase the memory of Game 1 versus the New York Rangers about as quickly as it happened.
Considering how many things went wrong for Ottawa in this Broadway bust – giving up four straight goals, incapable of executing on the power play — the good news for the Senators is they still have a shot at gaining a split on the road here. Game 2 is Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
A third period goal by Brad Richards put a four-spot on the board and killed any thoughts of one of Ottawa’s familiar comebacks, although late goals by captain Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Condra cut the gap in half. A flash of life for a team desperate for anything positive.
“Building blocks,” said several Senators.
For a long portion of a tenative second period, the Rangers looked like they might try to nurse home a 1-0 lead, which they have been known to do. The Senators pressed, tested Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and had an opportunity to tie the game when Ryan McDonagh took a tripping penalty on Erik Karlsson.
Turning point? You bet. The Rangers killed the penalty with ease, gained energy from a job well done, and very soon thereafter had a 2-0 lead from a goal-scorer’s goal by Marian Gaborik, with a display of quick hands and patience in alone.
The momentum fueled a third Rangers goal in the final minute of the second period, putting Ottawa into a deep hole for the start of the third.
As the Senators practice here Friday, they will take some consolation from outshooting New York in the opener and generating several decent scoring opportunities, snuffed out by King Henrik.
“We had the puck in their end, had them hemmed in, we just couldn’t capitalize,” said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips. “You have to take advantage of your chances.”
The Senators spoke of trying to survive the first 10 minutes of MSG-induced energy from the Rangers – “LET’S GO RANGERS” chants rained down from the rafters of the old building before the first puck was dropped. Once it did, though, the game quickly settled into a pretty even back and forth flow.
Using their size to advantage, the Rangers pounded the Senators at will, but hardly dominated a first period in which the visitors outshot the hosts 13-8.
On the whole, it was the kind of start the Senators could live with, if not for a single sequence in the first period that
Local hero Ryan Callahan did get the Rangers the lead they wanted, grabbing a rebound and sliding the puck under the left pad of Senators
goaltender Craig Anderson, as the Garden erupted.
They love their captain for goals and grit. When he decked Senators winger Jesse Winchester with a Broadway hit, Callahan ignited a “Cally!” chant from the faithful, one of many that the raucous bunch here have at their disposal.
The Rangers were not going to take the Senators lightly, after a season in which Ottawa held the 3-1 series advantage, although coaches and players from both camps dismissed that regular season business as meaningless.
A certain No. 1 seed from Vancouver has already felt the sting of a No. 8 seed in playoff groupings that scream parity.
“You make it (the playoffs), and then you throw the seeds out,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “You’re going to play a good team, no matter who it is. We’re not worried about numbers (1 vs 8) we’re going to worry about playing the right way.”
Exactly what he meant by the “right way,” Tortella refused to divulge, but Senators centre Jason Spezza says it means doing all the little things right.
The Senators were just as anxious as the Rangers to get this series going, maybe too anxious in some cases. Rookie D-man Jared Cowen was minus three and veteran Filip Kuba took two minor penalties.
In the run to Game 1, a lot was being made of the number of playoff newbies on both rosters, but the veterans on the teams didn’t feel it was a big deal. Alfredsson believes there can be advantages to having players experience their first postseason.
“I think you need a mix,” Alfredsson said. “The enthusiasm that comes from not having been in the playoffs before, it’s valuable. I think the excitement that comes from it, you kind of step up your game. Being a new guy in the playoffs, it takes pressure off because it’s up to us older guys to lead the way and they can just play their game.”
They’ll need a bit more game on Saturday.
Said Alfredsson: “We know we have to be better.”