NEW YORK -- Before this first-round series began, the Rangers and Senators shared essentially nothing. No playoff history to speak of, no lingering animosity from years past, no bitter memories of defeat or grudges to be evened. But in 61 minutes and 17 seconds, all of that changed, and the eventful first chapter of the Rangers-Senators saga was written on the ice of Madison Square Garden Saturday night.
It all actually began two nights ago, when New York opened the series with a fairly commanding 4-2 win. A big-bodied center named Brian Boyle met a lithe and smooth Swedish defenseman from Ottawa, Erik Karlsson. It was not exactly love at first sight.
During a stoppage late in the first period of Thursday night's game, Boyle took an opportunity to use Karlsson as his personal speedbag. He got a handful of jabs in on Karlsson's head, and each took coincidental minors as a result. See, when Brad Marchand takes free punches on Daniel Sedin (as he memorably did during last year's Cup final), it plays like an irritating little brother trying to get a rise out of his calm and composed elder. When the 6-foot-7, 244-pound Boyle rabbit-jabs the 5-11, 175-pound Karlsson, it doesn't seem so innocuous, certainly doesn't seem playful. He should maybe pick on somebody his own size.
Well, he didn't; somebody his own sized picked him.
Paul MacLean made a couple of telling lineup changes before Game 2, dressing the thick and stout Zenon Konopka and the 6-4, 238-pound defenseman Matt Carkner. The first-year coach started both. The Rangers didn't oblige at first, opting not to put Boyle out for the opening face-off. But 2:15 into the game, there they were, Carkner and Boyle sharing the same sheet of ice. And after Boyle delivered a little shove on Zack Smith into the boards, Carkner came in and delivered far more, letting loose a series of haymakers on Boyle while he was down on the ice.
New York forward Brandon Dubinsky jumped in on Carkner, and in the end, the Rangers came out with a five-minute power play, but not without a cost. Of course, Carkner received a game misconduct, but so did Dubinsky, for being the third man into an altercation. Both were done for the night. Boyle wasn't penalized until six minutes later, when he threw down his gloves when the rugged Chris Neil challenged him.
The Senators took some exception with Boyle's treatment of their star defenseman. That much was clear. "We didn't like what he did to Erik," Neil said after the game. "And we've got to take care of that stuff."
The Rangers did not score on the five-minute power play that accompanied Carkner's clobbering, but they did find the back of the net at 10:11, when again, with a man advantage, defenseman Anton Stralman slapped one from the right circle that went through Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson's pads. As much as the goal could have zapped the spirits of the Senators, they seemed to have just one word on their minds Saturday night: response.
"I thought our team responded all night long to the ebb and flow of the game," head coach Paul MacLean said. "We handled momentum changes way better than we did in the first game. We grew as a team after Game 1, and we grew again as a team tonight.... This is what playoff hockey is about, it's about responding."
Carkner and Neil took the mantel of responding for Karlsson, and then the defenseman helped answer for Daniel Alfredsson, who left the game midway through the second period after receiving a high hit from Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin. Coming in on the Senators captain, Hagelin led with his elbows up by Alfredsson's ears, a hit that earned himself a five-minute major for elbowing. Alfredsson, who missed five games this season with a concussion, did not return to the game, and there was no immediate update on his status.
Three minutes into the subsequent power play, though, Karlsson dashed deep into the zone and threw a sharp-angle shot toward the Rangers cage. The puck caromed right off New York defenseman Michael Del Zotto's skate and into the net, tying the game. When Boyle scored early in the third period, the Senators just kept pressing as the Rangers reflexively sat back hoping to defend a one-goal lead. Instead, they gave up the equalizer with less than five minutes remaining in the game when Nick Foligno found the puck on his stick after a Konopka point shot was blocked in front by Rangers defenseman Marc Staal.
The game ended just 1:17 into overtime, in a fashion as chaotic as it began. A point shot led to a mad scramble in front of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who lost his stick somewhere in the process. The puck found its way out of the mess and onto Neil's stick. The winger lifted it on his backhand for his first career game-winning goal in the playoffs, and evening the series to 1-1. If response was what the Senators were looking for, that's certainly what they got from Neil, who was an assist shy of a Gordie Howe hat trick.
As the teams turn north to Ottawa for Games 3 and 4, so will the temperature of the series. "The first game is normally not as bad as the others," Rangers center Brad Richards said. "[But] you start playing each other, seeing each other more, it happens. I'm sure it will get worse."
The plot will thicken, and through two games, the end for either team is not in sight.