Playing the Ottawa Senators in the second playoff round is giving the Rangers a distinctly different ambiance than playing the Montreal Canadiens in the opening tourney.
Unlike the Habs home, Bell Centre, in the center of Montreal’s metropolis, the Senators’ rink — Canadian Tire Centre — is situated in the town of Kanata, far, far from the Parliament Buildings in Downtown Ottawa.
That’s one difference.
Another more compelling one for the visiting Blueshirts is that they opened Round 2 in a manner unlike their first game in Montreal; they lost.
For starters, the home club declared its dominance in the scoreless first period, firing 21 shots at Henrik Lundqvist. Many of The King’s saves were outstanding but also suggested that, sooner or later, the Law of Averages would favor Ottawa.
By game’s end, the Senators had set a franchise playoff record of 43 shots on goal of which Lundqvist produced a ton of superior saves.
Not until late in the second period did the Senators solve Lundqvist on a power-play goal. The late third period winning goal by Erik Karlsson was enabled by the linesman’s failure to call an icing on a play that preceded the winning goal. Rick Nash had an opportunity to clear the puck out of the Rangers’ zone but didn’t.
If Nash makes the clear, the Rangers eventually might have cleared the zone and won the game. But in the end, Karlsson’s winner developed behind the New York net on a play that was on the left side of innocence.
“That goal,” said NHL-goalie-turned-analyst Brian Boucher, “was the result of a seeing-eye puck.”
But it fooled everyone, especially Lundqvist, and the Blueshirts never were able to recover for the tying goal.
A threat in Game 2 will be the fact — obvious on Thursday night — that Guy Boucher’s club presented a more threatening game plan than that displayed by Montreal in Round 1.
No question, it will send Alain Vigneault back to the drawing board because the Senators are a no-kidding-around-for-real hockey club spearheaded by arguably the best two-way player in the NHL, game-winner Karlsson.
Anyone who scores goals in the manner that the Senators’ captain did, bears watching no matter where he’s skating on the ice.
OVERVIEW: From the opening face-off, the Senators poured into the Rangers’ zone and when the first period buzzer ended, Ottawa had totaled 21 shots — and no goals. But the onslaught suggested that, eventually, Lundqvist’s wall would be dented and broken. It was — but only after the Rangers had taken the lead on Ryan McDonagh‘s second period power-play goal.
The Senators counterattacked and, finally, tied the count late in the middle period. That appeared to lessen the Rangers’ energy, if not their spirit. The third period went to the home club, but only after the Blueshirts regained their equilibrium and tested goalie Craig Anderson right down to the end.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
1. OUT OF SYNC: The Rangers’ first period featured three penalties, each of which forced the game plan out of kilter. Fortunately, their goaltending preserved the 0-0 tie. After taking the lead, they succumbed to unnecessary penalties that led to the club’s downfall.
2. MISSED EARLY CHANCES: In the first period, Michael Grabner shot one puck off the right post and then missed on a breakaway. Ditto McDonagh, who split the Sens’ defense, but failed on his shot. Any of those opening-period attempts could have turned the game in New York’s favor had there been a score.
3. SLOPPY PLAY: Because of penalties and Ottawa pressure, the Rangers failed to match the Senators’ intensity. New York fired 12 shots at Anderson in an opening frame dominated by the hosts.
4. TOO MANY PENALTIES: The well-designed Ottawa power play was held at bay in the first period and most of the second. But a Brady Skjei penalty late in the middle frame led to Ottawa’s tying goal.
5. KING NEEDS HELPERS: Lundqvist kept his club in the game right down to the cockamamie Karlsson shot. But The King certainly needed sharper shooting from his pals.
6. GRABNER GROUNDED: Grabner had more really good chances than any Ranger. He hit the post in the first period, missed breakaways and simply couldn’t beat Anderson. That was a difference-maker; against the Blueshirts.
7. WHERE’S THE ARSENAL? Nash, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, among other forwards, were muzzled. Grabner may not have scored, but he had more chances than all the others put together. That’s not likely to produce a win on Saturday.
8. KILLER FREAK GOAL: Karlsson’s winning goal from behind the net was a one-in-a-thousand, Hail Mary shot. Unfortunately, replays showed that an icing call should have preceded the goal and that would have changed everything. Vigneault alluded to it in his postgame presser.
TURNING POINTS: Through most of the second period the Rangers held Ottawa scoreless — until Skjei’s penalty. A well-synchronized Senators power play resulted in the tying goal, giving the home club the momentum it needed to take over in the third period. The winner could have been prevented had the icing been called and had Nash cleared the puck. He did not and that enabled the Senators to set up for the winning goal. Then again, had there been an icing, the game might have gone into overtime.
WHAT THEY SAID:
1. MSG NETWORKS HOST AL TRAUTWIG: “Hank [Lundqvist] played out of his mind. But [Craig] Anderson was better.”
2. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST RON DUGUAY: “The Rangers seemed satisfied to play Ottawa’s game. In a five-on-five situation, the Rangers are the better team. Grabner is so fast, he’s going to get opportunities. He’s going to get even better and the goals will come in bunches. On the winning goal, there was an icing and it wasn’t called.”
3. MSG NETWORKS STEVE VALIQUETTE: “Hank still has his Mojo from the first-round series with the Canadiens. The Rangers’ fourth line is as good as any of the other lines.”
4. RYAN MCDONAGH: “Bounces [like the winning goal] happen. Both goalies played really well. The Senators do a really good job with their neutral zone structure. We’ll keep our heads up. It’s only one game.”
5. HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “On the winning goal, three guys were in line with the puck; and it was in. It’s a tough one. Comes down to one play where you were guessing a little bit; waiting for the puck to come out. That’s the life of a goalie. A lot of decisions; then I don’t see the puck; that’s just how it goes. We had a lot of chances. There’s no question that they get a lot of momentum from their power play. Five-on-five, we played really well. We had a chance to make it 2-0, but we didn’t. But they have skilled players. Tough to lose it like this on a nothing play.”
6. DEREK STEPAN: “It was a fluky goal, but it happens. It stings. We’re down one game, but we will make adjustments and go forward.”
7. CRAIG ANDERSON: “It was a night when one goal would be a difference-maker. Lundqvist played great, but at the end of the day, we got the winner.”
8. ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “They got momentum off their power play. Overall, it was a hard-fought game but we have to do more than we did in this game. Most of their opportunities came on the power plays early on, but we had a couple of breakaways and hit the post.”
9. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST DAVE MALONEY: “Lundqvist had to be brilliant. The result was not fair and not right. It’s only one game and not four. The Rangers have to be better in their own end. The game was settled by a brilliant goal by a star player.”
10. ERIK KARLSSON: “Anderson made the saves when he had to and he stayed calm. We knew it would be tight and we had to ride it all the way through. There are still things that we can clean up. We’ll have to play better on Saturday.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Game 2 will be played at Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday afternoon, 3 p.m.
BOTTOM LINE: It was only one game and on the road. But if the Rangers are to prevail, they must get much more production from their goal-starved four lines. In Game 1, the only Blueshirt goal was delivered by a defenseman.