Rangers-Senators Game 7: Up, Up and Away
Thursday, April 26, 2012
By Stan Fischler
Supermen, they are not, but for the moment, at least, the Rangers' theme recalls that of The Man of Steel: Up, Up and Away!
Out-voting, out-dueling, out-hitting and, most of all, outscoring the Senators, 2-1, in Game 7, New York delectably enters the second playoff round against the Washington Capitals.
Looming more visibly in the NHL stratosphere is the gleaming silverware -- alias Lord Stanley’s Cup -- a mere three rounds, or 12 wins away.
With defending champion Boston in the playoff receptacle, along with noisesome Pittsburgh and ever-troublesome Detroit, John Tortorella has reason to either 1. Grin, 2. Gloat, 3. Grimace, or in the spirit that that moves him -- all three!
“When you get into this type of situation, it’s a great opportunity,” Tortorella said. “To get these type of situations under your belt and have some success -- it will bode very well for us.”
Ditto for noble Blueshirts such as Henrik Lundqvist, who made 26 saves, and defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who each netted their first goals of the playoffs. In a sense, the Rangers' best defense on this night was also their best offense.
“Everybody has contributed all year,” said captain Ryan Callahan. “Our defensemen stepped up and scored some big goals for us. [The Senators] are a really good team and it could have gone either way.”
In a month that has seen many of the mighty fall, Ottawa’s outfit injected more than a few migraines into the minds of Ranger rooters. The Senators' coach, Paul MacLean, agreed that his team gave everything it had.
“It’s hard to lose,” said MacLean, “but in the end it was very rewarding for our team. We found out a lot about ourselves as individuals. We grew as a team.”
That team gave the Blueshirts the heebie-jeebies right down to the final minute. Only some valiant shot blocking removed the “up” from an Ottawa upset and ultimately New York power prevailed.
“Desperation hockey is what we played in the final five minutes,” said Senators sniper Jason Spezza. “It’s amazing the puck didn’t go in.”
In such a tight match, it was almost axiomatic that the first goal would be decisive and it was, although it took more than a period-and-change for IT to happen.
New York opened the game with a flourish with two quick opportunities followed by pendulum swings punctuated by an Ottawa power play at 16:08. Brandon Dubinsky was dismissed for holding, but the Blueshirts' penalty kill was effective.
On at least three occasions, the Rangers seemed about to score:
• TWO-ON-ONE DENIED: Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik enjoyed a two-on-one, but it was foiled when Craig Anderson made the stop on Gabby.
• STOPPED ON THE DOORSTEP: Gaborik had a chance to bury a rebound on Girardi’s blue line blast, but Gabby missed the net.
• OFF THE IRON: Stu Bickel fired a shot from the right point that rang off the left post and caromed harmlessly wide.
The most bizarre episode involved Brandon Prust’s collision with Anderson behind the Ottawa goal. The netminder expected a penalty call and casually returned to his crease.
For a moment, it appeared as if the Blueshirts would accept the gift, but Girardi obliged the Senators by firing the rubber over the yawning cage.
The period ended with the Senators laying siege to the Rangers' end of the rink, but no damage resulted and the period ended at zip with Ottawa leading in shots on goal 10-8.
Since hockey is a game of mistakes it was not surprising that an Ottawa blunder -- a blue line turnover -- led to the first goal.
Derek Stepan exploited the error. Stepan collected the loose puck just outside the Ottawa zone with the Senators egregiously out of position. The Rangers' forward skated down the right side with Staal to his left for a two-on-one break.
Stepan’s accurate cross-ice pass was quickly deposited by Staal before Anderson could make a defensive move. The time was 4:46 and it catapulted the Senators into a couple of counterattacks, which were blunted by the Blueshirts.
The theory that the last line of defense can become the first line of offense worked again for the Rangers when a second backliner gave them a two-goal margin. This timem it was the workhorse Girardi who roused the crowd to their feet.
The architect on the play was Prust, who cruised over the blue line and put on the brakes before skimming a pass to the on-rushing Dubinsky, who then sent the puck to Girardi.
The wide-open defenseman gathered the rubber just in front of the crease and blasted it past Anderson at 9:04.
“I saw the guys jumping up on a three-on-two and Dubinsky saw me all by myself,” said Girardi. “It was a goal scorer’s goal.”
The Senators answered back on the power play after Michael Del Zotto was sent off for cross-checking.
Chris Phillips sent a pass from the point to Daniel Alfredsson at the right circle, who took the one-time pass and converted at 11:34 while Chris Neil screened Lundqvist.
The second period ended with a Ranger power play that extended 36 seconds into the third frame, and the Blueshirts killed it off.
After some back and forth throughout the period, Ottawa went on the offensive in the closing minutes.
The Sens brought seemingly endless waves of pressure, controlling the puck deep in the Rangers zone and firing from all angles. Lundqvist did an imitation of Horatio at the Bridge, stopping drives from all directions.
“The Rangers have a world-class goalie behind them,” said Ottawa’s Neil. “They finished first for a reason. We gave them a good test.”
Lundqvist refused to let one past him and with about a minute left and the Ottawa net empty, New York forechecked ferociously. Finally, Rangers forward Carl Hagelin drew a tripping call with 36 seconds remaining.
From there, the Rangers controlled the play and thrust themselves into the second round.
Next in line at The Garden will be the surprising Capitals, who upset Boston in a seven-game overtime thriller.
“We’ll enjoy this win but after a Game 7 like this you have to keep your emotions high and keep going,” said Callahan.
His coach offered an amendment:
“The enjoyment was good for one hour and now we look ahead!”
With the aid of a Rangerville telescope, one might even see the Stanley Cup in the distance!
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