Throughout the first four games of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals, the New York Rangers were able to keep one of the Ottawa Senators’ most dangerous players at bay. But it Game 5, the Blueshirts were unable to prevent Jason Spezza from scoring his first two goals of the series. One goal was all the Senators needed as Craig Anderson made 41 saves, shut out the Rangers, and led his team to a 2-0 victory last night at Madison Square Garden. With the win, the Senators lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 and put the Rangers on the brink of an early playoff exit.
An even bigger blow to the Rangers was the loss of Brian Boyle, who has been the team’s leading scorer in the playoffs, and an integral part to the team’s penalty kill. Boyle was concussed when he was drilled with a hit to the head by Ottawa’s Chris Neil early in the third period, and “is out” for Game 6 according to Rangers’ coach John Tortorella. Boyle played a few more shifts after the hit, including killing off one of Ryan Callahan’s penalties, but was forced to leave the game early.
“It’s a dangerous, dangerous cheap hit,” Tortorella said in a postgame interview. He compared the hit to the one Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres’ committed on Chicago Blackhawks Marian Hossa. Torres received a 25-game suspension.
Neil, however, admits to no wrongdoing, stating that when a player is cutting through the middle of the ice with his head down he should expect a hit.
Spezza scored the game-winning goal early in the first period when he snapped a shot that beat Lundqvist on the right side. The play started with Mark Stone, who was making his NHL debut. Stone received a pass from Filip Kuba and waited patiently for Spezza to cut toward the net before delivering a beautiful pass. The goal marked the first time in the series that Ottawa held a lead. And it was a lead they weren’t going to let slip away.
The score stayed the same until Spezza added an empty-netter with 55 seconds left in regulation.
It was a relatively uneventful and even played match as both teams played well, had scoring opportunities and could not convert on the man advantage even though each team had four power plays.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, they could not figure out a way to get the puck in the net. Anderson was on his game.
“He played well. He’s been playing well in the series. It’s a challenge for us to win this,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. We have to keep working, have to keep pushing ourselves to play even better and get a little more involved in front of the net. The guys have been doing a great job. You can’t work harder. The guys put everything out there.”
Even when the Rangers put 15 shots on goal in the third period, Anderson stayed determined to deliver his team the victory.
While no team wants to be on the brink of elimination, the Rangers aren’t losing their confidence.
“I thought we played well tonight,” Callahan said. “I thought we had a lot of chances and a lot of opportunities. We threw up 40 shots on net. We just have to bury one.”
Brad Richards reiterated Callahan’s thoughts saying, “It was a tough result, but we have to stick with it and do the same things up in Ottawa. It’s still a series. We just have to keep plugging away. Pucks will find their way in if we keep it up.”
Even the Rangers’ coach knows better than to focus on the negative. While his team is behind in the series, they aren’t out.
“I feel better about the team after tonight’s game than a couple of wins that we’ve had,” he said. “So we go to Ottawa and have to play the same way and keep banging away and see if we can score some goals. Everything about our game was good except our power play struggled, but that’s why it’s a series and they have to win four.”
The Rangers will look to force a game seven when the play again Monday night in Ottawa.