Sens fight back, frustrate Rangers
This wasn't exactly the way the Ottawa Senators had game-planned it.
To be fair, they were absent the services of leader and power play lynchpin Daniel Alfredsson. They were trying to avoid adding to a record-setting streak of seven consecutive losses at The Bank. And they had managed to get a shot past Henrik Lundqvist just five times through the first three games.
But allowing the New York Rangers to again score first, this time on a power play just 49 seconds into the game? It looked as if this stage was a tad too big for the Sens.
And yet there they were, just a little over an hour of playing time later, piling on Kyle Turris after the midseason recruit sealed an improbable overtime win that knotted this series at two games apiece.
It was an almost unbelievable finish after that brutal start. Nervous? The Sens may as well have hit the ice wearing rented tuxes and Clearasil, judging by how overamped they were.
Coach Paul MacLean was seen staring skyward after watching Zack Smith skate about 40 feet to nail Ryan McDonagh from behind and take a penalty just 39 seconds into the match. Ten seconds later, the wind was sucked out of Scotiabank Place when Anton Stralman blasted a fat rebound behind Craig Anderson.
Less than six minutes later, with Erik Karlsson in the box for tripping Artem Anisimov after inexplicably bobbling a pass at the blueline, Ryan Callahan buried another poorly controlled rebound into a gaping cage for a two-goal lead.
With their wheels flying off, the Senators looked like they needed an intervention.
Turned out that all they needed was a stop.
With Matt Carkner in the box, the Rangers were looking to take control with their red-hot power play. Lined up at the point, Marc Staal found an opening and fired through a maze of bodies. If the puck had slipped past Anderson, the city of Ottawa could have started planning for an open-casket viewing. But the goalie got a piece of that one, the crowd started breathing again and so, to their credit, did the Sens.
The turnaround was immediate. Jason Spezza pounced on Staal's rebound lying just outside the crease and spied Carkner exiting the box. His 100-ft pass hit the Game 2 villain on the fly and the enforcer made a surprisingly nimble pass to Milan Michalek, whose backhand beat Lundqvist high blocker.
After that, the Senators were a different team, starting with their defensive poise. They started controlling the middle of the ice, forcing the Rangers to settle for shots from distance or low-risk angles. They continued to take aggravating penalties, but began building some momentum.
They were especially strong in the corners, grinding away at the Rangers' defense until they started winning the majority of the battles. It was a Chris Neil win down low that set up Sergei Gonchar's power-play goal at 17:50 of the second, and after that the result seemed almost inevitable. The teams continued to swap chances, but it was clear that Anderson, who stopped all 27 shots he faced after the Callahan goal, had found the zone. And all he would need was one more goal.
Turris' winner ("I've just lived every boy's Stanley Cup dream," he said afterward), was a marvel, somehow dipping under Anton Stralman -- who was in the process of going down for the block -- then rising to beat Lundqvist high on the glove side just 2:42 into overtime.
The goal sealed a gut-check win that might not be a surprise from a team that responded with seven third-period comebacks during the regular season, but MacLean has to be concerned. Despite their two wins, the Sens still haven't played with the lead in the series. They continue to take overly aggressive penalties and Alfredsson's return remains in doubt.
And the Rangers? They have to be wondering what happened to their killer instinct. Both losses in the series have been characterized by blown leads and the inability to finish a team that -- no offense to the plucky Sens -- they really shouldn't be having this much trouble with.
Brad Richards' line for the night looked good -- two power play assists and a team-high eight shots on net -- but he scarcely seemed like a threat past the 10-minute mark of the first. Marian Gaborik? After losing an edge behind the Ottawa net and falling hard into the dashers, he was just another guy skating around in a white sweater.
Even Brian Boyle, so dominant for long stretches this series, was held in check, unable to plant himself down low as he did seemingly at will in the first three games.
And another night with 30 blocked shots? As a coach once told me, if you're blocking that many shots, it just means the other team's got the puck too much.
John Tortorella has some adjustments to make, starting with a forecheck that dimmed as the game progressed. If the Rangers aren't able to start winning more of those battles down low, this series could go the distance.