NEW YORK -- They didn't look all that different Saturday night, those Senators and Rangers. Both teams, backed by solid goaltending, undermined by impotent power plays, looked for any edge in a 2-2 series, however thin it might be. And in the end, it was Ottawa that found it, defeating top-seeded New York, 2-0, in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.
Despite having never trailed in regulation through the series' first four games, the Rangers returned to the Garden in no better position than they had been when the playoffs opened. If anything, New York might have been worse the wear without first-line winger Carl Hagelin, who was serving the final game of his three-game suspension. Forced to mix up lines and break up the instant chemistry Hagelin had built with Marian Gaborik and center Brad Richards, the Rangers offense sputtered. Though they put up 41 shots on Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, only eight of those shots came from within 15 feet of the goal; 14 came from 40 feet or further.
"Tonight, I thought our defense did a good job of boxing out in front, taking away second chances," Senators center Jason Spezza said. "And when [Anderson] is seeing the puck well and seeing them from the outside, that's when he's at his best."
The Senators, searching for their first lead of the series, found it midway through the first period. Making his NHL debut, and on just his second shift, no less, Ottawa winger Mark Stone gained the zone down the right side and spotted Spezza gaining position on New York's defense and streaking to the goalmouth. He touched a pass forward, through Ranger Ryan McDonagh's skates, and Spezza, as he has done for the Senators all season, finished with a quick shot that beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
"Stone did a good job of giving me some room," Spezza said. "Luckily enough, I found a hole through [Lundqvist], and there aren't very many very often, so I was just trying to be deceptive with my shot."
The goal, Spezza's first of the postseason, ended up being the difference in a game that came down to the protectors of the cage. Trading saves throughout the game, Lundqvist and Anderson combined for 70 saves, the Ottawa goalie earning the shutout with 41 stops. It was the most offense a Rangers team has created in a regulation postseason game since April 20, 1997, when they put up 44 shots on Florida in a 3-0 win.
"We had a lot of chances and a lot of opportunities," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "We just have to bury one."
Coming into Game 5, New York coach John Tortorella had put some of the onus on his biggest stars. Gaborik, the Rangers leading scorer this season (41 goals and 76 points), and star center Richards have not scored since Game 1, though the latter led the Rangers with seven shots Saturday night. Instead, New York has leaned on its depth players for scoring, namely big-bodied center Brian Boyle, who leads the Rangers with three goals this postseason, including two game-winners.
The Rangers' depth, then, took a hit -- literally -- early in the third period, when Senators forward Chris Neil nailed the 6-foot-7 center with a lateral hit on Boyle's head. After the game, Tortorella confirmed that Boyle suffered a concussion and would likely be out, though the center did play another shift after sustaining the hit. Regardless, it furthered this brutal first around, which seems to bring a questionable hit a day. It will once again force the opinion of NHL Senior VP of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan, who has been put in as much overtime as the league has been playing this postseason.
"They have a blueprint," Tortorella said, referring to the league's disciplinary system, which had handed out a 25-game suspension for Coyotes forward Raffi Torres earlier Saturday after reviewing his hit on Blackhawk Marian Hossa. "It's probably the exact same hit as Torres. Different part of the ice. [But] the blueprint's there ... So there it is. It's just a dangerous, dangerous cheap hit. The puck is on the goal line. It's the exact same hit as Torres."
The Rangers, in the meantime, will need to find offense elsewhere if they hope to avoid elimination in Ottawa. They took many positives from Saturday night's game, but the Senators were the ones that took the win.