NEW YORK, N.Y. – Just as finishing with the Eastern Conference’s best regular-season doesn’t mean anything once the playoffs start, the New York Rangers are well aware that no one will remember their elimination-avoiding victory in Ottawa if they don’t finish off the Senators at home in Game 7.
With a two-day break before the deciding game in the back-and-forth, first-round series, the top-seeded Rangers took the day off Tuesday after staying alive with a stirring 3-2 comeback victory on Monday.
The contentious matchup will be decided on Thursday night.
History has swung a bit back in the Rangers’ favour. The Broadway Blueshirts are 3-0 in Game 7s played at home, including a pair in 1994 when they advanced to the finals with a double-overtime win over New Jersey, and the Stanley Cup clincher against Vancouver that ended 54 years of waiting for a championship.
The Rangers are more than happy to have parallels to the special season of 1994. That Eastern Conference finals win over New Jersey 18 years ago marked the only time New York rallied to win a series in which it trailed 3-2—the same deficit the Rangers are looking to erase against the Senators.
It has also been that long since the Rangers had a Game 7 in Madison Square Garden.
“Our thought is to win it,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday during a conference call. “As far as there not being a Game 7 at Madison Square since 1994, it doesn’t affect anything we do. We’re going into a Game 7 with an opportunity to win the hockey game. That’s all we’re concerned about.”
The Rangers are 3-5 overall in Game 7, but their wins have all come in the past four they have played. New York lost in the final game of its first-round series against Washington in 2009—the Rangers’ most recent Game 7.
Ottawa is 0-4 in Game 7s, but the Senators have had success in New York this season. They are 4-1 at Madison Square Garden, including 2-1 in this series.
“I think it’s good for us. We’ve been better on the road,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. “We obviously know that they’re going to come (out hard). I think that they played a more aggressive game than we did (Monday). I think we got up early and we were a little bit passive.”
Ottawa jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period of Game 6, and seemed poised to keep the Rangers off the board for the second straight game until New York got its power play going in the second period. The Rangers used it to score two of their three goals in a span of 10:24 of the middle frame.
The Rangers had gone 145 minutes, 27 seconds over three games without scoring against goalie Craig Anderson before breaking through.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Tortorella said of the Rangers’ resilience. “Our team has responded all year long. A lot of our game throughout this series has been very good. We just have not found a way to make a big offensive play at a key time. (Monday) night in the second period, we did. This group of guys has just gone about their business. That’s the way we’ll approach Game 7.”
The Senators complained about a questionable goalie interference call against Nick Foligno that gave the Rangers a 5-on-3 advantage that led to New York’s second goal.
The Rangers had disputes of their own, starting with a roughing penalty to Mike Rupp in the first period that created the power play that produced the Senators’ first goal. The bigger gripe for New York came in the last minute when Ottawa scored to make it 3-2. The Rangers believe the goal shouldn’t have counted because goalie Henrik Lundqvist was interfered with, and they contended that prime agitator Chris Neil kicked the puck into the net.
Lundqvist still fumed after the game and made remarks that could land him in trouble with the NHL.
“It’s an absolute joke,” Lundqvist said after his 25-save performance. “When it’s such an obvious play, goalie interference and a kick, and they still call it a goal? It scares me that someone can call that. It’s just unbelievable. It still upsets me, because we have this game, and then they get a chance.
“Someone wants them back in the game, obviously, because there’s no other explanation.”
For at least the third time in this physical series, the NHL is looking into an act that could result in further punishment.
Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin returned Monday from a three-game suspension for his elbow to Alfredsson’s head in Game 2. Neil avoided supplemental discipline for his Game 5 hit that gave 6-foot-7 New York forward Brian Boyle a concussion that forced him to miss Game 6, and now the league is believed to bereviewing replays to see whether Ottawa’s Milan Michalek kicked defenceman Dan Girardi twice when the Senators scored their final goal.
Tortorella, who has been fined $50,000 this season for critical remarks directed at the league and officiating, declined to comment Tuesday on any of the disputed calls.
If Michalek is forced to sit out Game 7, the Senators will have to scramble to form a new top line around leading scorer Jason Spezza.
It is not known if the Rangers will have any lineup adjustments to make. Hagelin fit in very well in his return alongside Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards on New York’s top line. His speed and dogged pursuit of the puck were missed in the games he sat out.
Boyle’s availability is a question mark, along with the status of captain Ryan Callahan, who was struck in the hand by a shot on Monday in the third period but finished the game.
Tortorella was quite pleased with the quick improvement of 20-year-old Chris Kreider, who has improved considerably since making his NHL debut in Game 3 to replace Hagelin. His minutes and responsibility have grown, and Kreider’s first professional goal was the game-winner on Monday.
“I’m feeling more and more comfortable every shift,” Kreider said.
Kreider, who won his second NCAA championship with Boston College earlier this month, had 10 minutes, 46 seconds of ice time in Game 6 while playing on a line with fellow youngster Derek Stepan and Callahan. The 21-year-old Stepan had a goal and two assists in the must-win game.
“The thing that impressed me most about him right now in just a couple of days of being with him—forget about what’s on the ice—is just how he has handled the situation,” Tortorella said of Kreider.
“He comes into a team in the middle of the playoffs after winning a championship in college. I’m sure there is a letdown after his college season is over, and not only coming into the playoffs but coming into an elimination game. I just don’t think much fazes the guy.”