NEW YORK, N.Y. – All is well with the New York Rangers, unless you’re talking about momentum shifts and overtime.
The Ottawa Senators haven’t skated with the lead through four games of their playoff series against the Rangers, and yet the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference is all even heading into Game 5 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Ottawa has owned overtime, and that has been plenty for the Senators to hang with the East’s top seed.
The only times in the tight best-of-seven matchup the upstart Senators have been ahead were at the end of Games 2 and 4 after they scored in OT.
Game 6 is Monday in Ottawa.
Rangers coach John Tortorella continued his positive approach Thursday, and even gave his club the day off. Tortorella, never shy about criticism, said after Wednesday night’s 3-2 overtime road loss that he had no real problem with how his team played. He stuck to that on the first day of the series’ first two-day break.
Yes, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards have been held to two goals and six points through four games, and yes the Rangers have missed the speed that suspended rookie forward Carl Hagelin brought to a line with those two star forwards, but New York is not about to start making excuses.
Now the series is a best-of-three, and the Rangers will host two of the games if it goes the distance.
“I thought a number of players through our lineup gave us some good things,” Tortorella said. “I’m not interested in naming names. We’re going to win or lose as a team. We just didn’t get it done in overtime. I thought we played a pretty good game. We’ll just get ready for another one.”
Hagelin will miss one more game because of his elbow to the head of Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson in Game 2, so the Rangers will have to get their offence going without him. Tortorella split up the duo of Gaborik and Richards on Wednesday, and didn’t tip his hand for future plans.
“I know everybody wants to know what are going to do, this and that,” Tortorella said Thursday. “We’re going go out and play and try to gain momentum and maybe score two in a row.”
The Rangers scored two in a row Wednesday, netting the power-play goals just 6:10 in, but they couldn’t get another.
Ottawa tied it at 2 in the second period, and the teams held each other at bay in the third, before the Senators electrified their home crowd with the sudden overtime winner.
“We had a lead, but it was early and there was a lot of hockey left,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “I don’t think anyone expected the game was over because we were up 2-0. They are a dangerous team and just keep coming.”
The Rangers’ power play was forceful early, before slumping again and going scoreless on its next five chances in the Game 4 loss. Ottawa, however, used its potent power play to get its game going and then to net the tying goal when defenceman Sergei Gonchar fired in a long shot to make it 2-2.
“That was the key to the game,” Tortorella said. “We had some good chances to get that third goal. When we didn’t get that done, you could see in that second period the momentum change a bit. It turned into a really good hockey game.
“In the third period, I think we had the better chances, other than a couple of spurts by them. We battled hard, we blocked shots during those spurts, but we just haven’t been able to find that next goal in the two losses that we’ve had.”
New York has dropped seven straight playoff games that have needed more than 60 minutes to decide, dating to 2007, and Lundqvist has been in the nets for all of them.
“I said after the second game we didn’t expect this to be easy,” Lundqvist said. “So we’ll go back and work on our game.”
The Senators, who also took the day off Thursday, are getting key contributions from role players such as defenceman Matt Carkner and rugged forward Zenon Konopka, who excelled on faceoffs in Game 4. Neither was in the lineup when the series opened.
Ottawa is waiting for forward Jason Spezza and stellar defenceman Erik Karlsson to break out, especially while Alfredsson is sidelined by a head injury. After suffering a setback before Game 3, there is no timetable for Alfredsson’s return.
“Each game there’s a different guy stepping up,” Carkner told The Canadian Press after returning from a one-game suspension. “That’s why I like our group. Everyone’s competing, and any given night anyone can be the hero.”
Sandwiched around those Senators victories were a 4-2 series-opening win at home by the Rangers and a 1-0 New York squeaker at Ottawa in Game 3.
The arena frenzy will be back in New York’s favour on Saturday in fired-up Madison Square Garden, and although they won 24 road games in the regular season, the Rangers don’t want to have one of the best seasons in team history come down to a do-or-die game on enemy ice.
“They’ve scored a couple of goals and we haven’t,” Tortorella said of the overtime woes. “Before they scored (Wednesday) night we had a couple of chances. It’s not about a concern, it’s about trying to find a way to win.”