Game 6 defined by over-officiating, but Senators deserved their fate
Whether it was Henrik Lundqvist shaking with anger at the final horn, Chris Neil barking through his 7-10 split teeth, John Tortorella clearly mouthing one of George Carlin's seven words you can't say on TV or Paul MacLean heatedly saying ... something ... through that Wilford Brimley mustache, everyone it seems got their two cents in to the referees during the Rangers' 3-2 stayin'-alive win over the Senators at Scotiabank Place.
The Rangers thus avoided being the second No. 1 seed to get bounced from the playoffs, earning a Game 7 finale at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
In a choppy, chippy and generally over-officiated game, New York rode to victory on the strength of Lundqvist's 25 saves -- 13 in a third period of Ranger rope-a-dope hockey -- and three second-period goals, including the first NHL tally by Boston College rookie Chris Kreider with 41 seconds left.
The Senators were jobbed on one major turning-point call but completely deserved their ultimate fate. They just weren't smart enough to close this thing out, best exemplified by defenseman Erik Karlsson's stupefying decision to pass instead of shoot the puck with about nine seconds left in regulation, 30 seconds after Neil was credited with a controversial goal to make it 3-2.
Karlsson, the NHL's leading scorer among defensemen by a mile, had a great chance to put a good, hard shot on Lundqvist but foolishly tried to push a soft pass instead and had it broken up to end the game.
The Rangers got three points from Derek Stepan and two from Brad Richards. Stepan's great crossing pass through the slot to an onrushing Kreider was the best play of the game. Lundqvist made a couple of dandy saves, none better than a stack-the-pads job on Kyle Turris from close on the left side early in the third.
Lundqvist was still hot after the game over the Neil/Spezza goal with 38.9 seconds left. He and everybody else wearing visitor white thought Neil distinctly kicked the puck in, but the goal withstood a visit to the NHL's watchmen in Toronto.
"Somebody (wanted) them back in the game, obviously," Lundqvist told reporters. "It still upsets me they could make that call."
Replays showed, however, that while Neil clearly made a kicking motion with his left skate, he might have only grazed the puck and Lundqvist's stick might have propelled it forward with more force. In other words, it was too inconclusive to overrule the call on the ice.
The crux of this game was decided well before that, though, late in the second.
The scene: Ottawa went on the power play with 5:32 left, after a Kreider goalie-interference penalty in a 1-1 game. But it was New York that would score twice in less than four minutes.
Ottawa veteran Filip Kuba took a foolish high-sticking penalty at 15:42, clipping Ruslan Fedotenko in the face and wiping out the Senators' power play. Then came the most debatable call of the night -- a goalie-interference call on Ottawa's Nick Foligno at 15:58.
Foligno collided with Lundqvist in the crease, it's true, after driving the net. But he also got hit from the side by Dan Girardi to help propel him into King Henrik. The Bank erupted in howling derision when the play went up on the JumboTron, and MacLean was practically chewing through his mustache after seeing it.
Instead of having to continue playing down a man, the Rangers got 30 seconds of 4-on-3 time with Kuba and Foligno in the box and then 1:30 of 5-on-3 time when Kreider finished serving his minor.
Richards -- who now has points in his last nine playoff games when facing elimination -- untied it with a big-time slap shot to the far post off the right side, a shot that caromed in off the underside of Anderson's right arm. Kreider added the needed insurance marker after settling Stepan's expert cross and putting a wrist shot just inside the left post.
"That's the way we need to play, and that's the way we're going to continue to play," Stepan told NBC.
Rangers forward Brandon Prust deserves a shout-out for the role he played in the win. Late in the first period, with Ottawa not only leading on the scoreboard but roughing up the Rangers a bit physically -- Neil in particular having his way -- Prust dropped the gloves against the bigger, stronger Neil and engaged in a long, spirited fight. It can be overblown when teams say a fight "got us going," but in this case it did, judging by the many stick-taps and pats on the back that Prust received before departing for the locker room.
Neil was also drilled near the end of the game by Michael Del Zotto -- a hard-but-clean hit that nonetheless had Neil barking at the refs and all but declaring that vengeance would be his.
"I'm sure I'll catch him with his head down one of these times," Neil told reporters.
Maybe some day. But in a Game 7, in front of a New York crowd on a Tortorella-coached team? Doubtful.