OTTAWA - Put the upset on hold. The Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers are heading back to Broadway to decide a series that is on the verge of boiling over with emotion.
Facing elimination, the Rangers played a composed game Monday and revived their struggling power play to quiet a frenzied, towel-waving crowd and edge Ottawa 3-2.
It was an extremely disappointing evening for the Senators—and not just because they squandered an opportunity to oust the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Coach Paul MacLean had some choice words about the performance of his players in the biggest game of their season.
"I'm not even sure we had focus tonight," said MacLean. "I thought we were distracted throughout the game. ... I thought we played catch-up most of the night.
"I didn't really think that we played particularly well or worked particularly hard."
They'll need to correct that before Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
Nothing better represented a Senators team that lost its focus in Game 6 than the sight of classy captain Daniel Alfredsson smashing his stick on the bench during the third period. He was frustrated at being held off for a key power play and admitted afterwards that he shouldn't have lost his cool.
He was far from alone among the Senators, as evidenced by post-game comments from Chris Neil that may land the agitator in hot water. Asked about taking a hit from Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto in the third period, he responded: "I'm sure I'll catch him with his head down one of these times."
Down the hall, there were also complaints from the Rangers as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist suggested a late goal shouldn't have counted. Jason Spezza was given credit after the puck crossed the line with a scrum of players all over the New York goalie in the crease.
"It's unbelievable," said Lundqvist, who finished with 25 saves. "It still upsets me because we had this game, then they get a chance. Someone wants them back in the game, obviously, because there's no other explanation."
There will certainly be no shortage of intrigue heading into Game 7.
For Ottawa, the first order of business will be putting the disappointment of Monday night in the rear-view mirror. There was a party-like atmosphere at Scotiabank Place with Alfredsson making his return from a concussion and the series on the line.
But it was some of the Rangers slumbering scorers who rose to the occasion, with Derek Stepan, Brad Richards and Chris Kreider all scoring goals during a momentum-swinging second period.
"The power play helped, we scored a couple of power-play goals," said Rangers coach John Tortorella.
Neil and Spezza replied for Ottawa.
It was yet another game played in the mud and the trenches, which seemed to be just as the Senators wanted it. The underdogs had gained an upper hand in the series largely because of inspired performances from role players like Neil, who made a noticeable impact once again in Game 6.
He was planted at the edge of Lundqvist's crease along with teammate Zack Smith when Ottawa's much-maligned power play put it ahead 1-0 at 7:05. Sergei Gonchar's point shot deflected in off Neil's skate as he tried to jump out of the way.
But the Senators got untracked in the second period and saw the tide turn with referees Steve Kozari and Tim Peel giving the Rangers four power plays in the frame.
"You look at the scoresheet and special teams was a huge part of tonight," said veteran Ottawa defenceman Chris Phillips. "It's tough when you're in the box, but on the other side we've got to take advantage when we've got the extra man and we've got to do a better job of that in Game 7."
Stepan tied the game 1-1 during the first man advantage at 8:55, taking two whacks at a lovely pass from Richards to beat Craig Anderson. That ended the Rangers scoring drought at 145 minutes 27 seconds.
A controversial call helped put them ahead for good.
New York received a lengthy 5-on-3 after Nick Foligno was sent off for goaltender interference—replays showed two Rangers players guiding him into Lundqvist—and Richards took advantage of the extra space by skating off the wall and beating Anderson high at 17:08.
"I'm not sure about (Foligno's) call, it's a bit of a tough call to put a team down 5-on-3 in a real tight series," said Spezza. "We haven't seen one of those yet, either way and they get a lot of momentum from that and we give them the late goal."
That came off of Kreider's stick when he snuck a shot through Anderson with 40.3 seconds to play in the period to make it 3-1. It was the first NHL goal of his career.
Ottawa successfully staged a number of dramatic comebacks during the regular season—they also erased a two-goal deficit while winning Game 4—and had plenty of opportunities to mount another one here. But Lundqvist stood tall on two Sens power plays, denying Kyle Turris point blank and having a Phillips shot ring off the post.
They managed to make it close with Spezza's controversial goal in the final minute, but there would be no drama on this night.
"We showed some desperation tonight," said Rangers defenceman Marc Staal.
The hard-fought series is now heading for the conclusion it deserves. There has been very little to choose between with teams that were separated by 10 wins and 17 points through the regular season.
Ottawa still has an unlikely upset in its sights, needing only one more victory at Madison Square Garden, where it has compiled a 4-1 record this year.
"When you win in a building, it definitely gives you a little bit of confidence," said Spezza. "But we know it's going to be a battle—both teams are playing for their lives and nobody wants to go home. Seventh games are special, it's going to be intense."
Notes: Turris briefly left the game in the first period after a blocking a shot, but returned ... Swedish forward Jakob Silfverberg made his NHL debut for the Senators and saw 9:02 of ice time ... Boyle didn't make the trip after suffering a concussion on the hit from Neil in Game 5 ... Carl Hagelin returned to the Rangers lineup after sitting out a three-game suspension for his elbow on Alfredsson ... Two of Alfredsson's sons, Loui and Hugo, were on the ice with Sens flags when the team came out at the start of the game ... Former Senators Igor Kravchuk and Shaun Van Allen were among the announced crowd of 20,500.