Rangers-Senators: On to Game Seven
Sunday, February 26, 2017
By Stan Fischler
It wasn't easy but, then again, who said it would be a bagel, bialy, donut or, for that matter, a piece of cake for the Rangers. it rarely is that simple.
Not with Ottawa jumping into an early first period lead in Game Six of the opening round at home, backed by a noisy crowd which could be heard beyond the North Pole.
But, the Rangers were unfazed by the debit and when the final count was made, the result was Game Seven, at The Garden on Thursday night; winner take a hold on Round Two.
Saving the Blueshirts in their 3-2 victory on Monday night in suburban Kanata was a cast of heroes that included Derek Stepan -- power play goal and two assists -- Brad Richards and the rookie Chris Kreider, who wound up with the winner. Oops! I almost forgot Henrik (Himself) Lundqvist who tightly shut the gate after the first period.
"It was a lot of fun," said Kreider, effective both offensively and defensively. "The guys played great. I'm on a high because we came away with the win."
To gain the hold-your-breath triumph, New York had to rebound in the second period after a depressing opener that featured a power play goal by the Rangers nemesis, Chris Neil. Taking time out from whacking every Blueshirt in sight, Neil managed to camp in front of Lundqvist's crease from where he deflected defenseman Sergei Gonchar's shot from the blue line.
Ironically, John Tortorella's troops had the better of the play throughout the opener but couldn't convert despite Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson being out of position and vulnerable on a few occasions. This was, however, a portent of things to come.
The hitting sometimes seemed harder than the shots and, eventually, Brandon Prust and Neil dropped the gloves for what evolved into a marathon bout that left both combatants exhausted and unbowed. Torts was hopeful that Prust's belligerence would catapult his team to scoring heights in the middle period. Significantly, after the first twenty minutes, Anderson came off looking as lucky as he was good.
"We had a lot of chances in the first period," said captain Ryan Callahan, a constant rallying force for New York, "and we put a lot of pressure on Ottawa. I felt that if we kept shooting we'd get back into the game."
Cally was right. Slowly, relentlessly, the Rangers took control of the second frame and it appeared only a matter of time before the game would be knotted at one.
En route to the tying goal, Richards was stopped on a partial breakaway but the Senators were committing enough defensive mistakes to give hope for the visitors. Shortly thereafter, playing shorthanded, Callahan came close to illuminating the light. After killing the penalty, the Rangers went on a power play and the Senators (Anderson's) dam finally burst.
Formerly slumping Stepan scored his first career playoff goal at 8:55 and the game irrevocably turned in the Rangers' favor. The goal ended 145:27 minutes of goose-egg goaltending by Anderson.
"That goal," said Stepan, "got us going. Our line started to develop chemistry."
Lundqvist foiled the returned Daniel Alfredsson after a dangerous Senators two-on-one in the second period and this would later be remembered as a turning-point save. Another penalty -- this to rookie Kreider for goalie interference -- forced the rapidly-improving Rangers penalty-killing combo into frustrating the home club. From that point on, the Senatos rapidly descended to its eighth-place level of the regular season.
The Rangers tenacity forced a couple of Ottawa penalties and a five-on-three situation whereupon Richards blasted a shot inside the post past Anderson, putting the visitors ahead, 2-1, while further diminishing Anderson's invincibility.
All of a sudden it was all Rangers with Stepan finally putting a pass on Kreider's stick. The fleet rookie had his first NHL goal at 19:18 posting the Blueshirts to a two-goal lead. Poof! Just like that, Anderson had been reduced to goaltending mortality.
Determined to preserve their lead, the Rangers opened the third with an effective penalty kill while the Sens' high-scoring defenseman Erik Karlsson remained as inconspicuous as Kanata's City Hall. Stifling Karlsson has been one of New York's lesser-mentioned but very strategic advantages so far.
Even with Alfredsson back in the lineup, the Senators couldn't quite nab the necessary pair of goals to force overtime. The blend of Rangers' impeccable shot-blocking and Lundqvist's stalwart goaltending was too much for the Sens despite a too-late goal by Jason Spezza with Anderson removed for a sixth attacker.
So, it's back to Seventh Avenue where inhaling and exhaling already has become easier than it did before Game Six had begun North of the border!