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2012 stanley cup playoffs

The Rangers Looked Like a No. 1 Seed Last Night

 Ryan Callahan #24 of the New York Rangers celebrates with teammates on the bench after he scored a first period goal against the Ottawa Senators in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 12, 2012 in New York City. Ryan Callahan and the Rangers celebrate a goal last night.

So, the Rangers didn’t look all that vulnerable last night, did they? They jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the strength of good goaltending and forwards who buried their chances, and came away with a 4-2 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. It's on the back page of the tabloids and everything.

We’ve seen over the past month how the energy can be sucked out of the Garden when the opponent scores early in the first period: It happened against Pittsburgh last month on the night of Sidney Crosby’s return, and it really happened last weekend when the Caps scored two early goals en route to a comfortable victory. And so not to assign too much meaning to single goal in the first period of Game 1 of the opening round, but Ryan Callahan’s tally to open the scoring was huge. Playoff hockey’s tense no matter the score, but getting an early lead — against a team that has given them trouble — opens up the pressure-release valve just a bit, at least for those in the stands and those watching at home. Callahan set the tone in the first period with some physical play, as well; we’re never sure how accurate this stat is, but he led all players with seven hits last night, and that sounds about right.

Callahan and Brian Boyle — who’s been finding the net more often of late — provided the secondary scoring the Rangers will desperately need in these playoffs, but the top line did its job as well: Marian Gaborik scored on a nifty unassisted goal to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead, and Brad Richards added a goal following a great setup by Carl Hagelin, who took the puck away from Ottawa’s Nick Foligno behind the net and quickly found his teammate open in front.

The Rangers had a 4-0 lead in this one, but it’s not quite right to say they dominated the entire game. Ottawa had stretches where they controlled the puck and got scoring opportunities, but Henrik Lundqvist was his sharpest when the game was still tight. And John Tortorella wisely opted to burn his timeout after an icing call midway through the second period — one that allowed his team to regroup when momentum was shifting in the Senators’ favor and the score was still 1-0. The Rangers would score twice more before the period ended.

Two nights in, and already the Stanley Cup Playoffs are proving to as unpredictable as ever: The mighty Penguins not only lost, but blew a three-goal lead, and over in the West, the top two seeds fell behind one game to none. (The Bruins, the No. 2 seed in the East, needed overtime to win last night. Speaking of the Bruins win, what the hell happened with the glass at the end of that game?!) Game 1 in the Rangers-Senators series, however, went more or less as the Rangers had hoped. We think we even detected a suppressed smile from John Tortorella after the Boyle goal gave the Rangers the 3-0 lead. After an uneven final month, the Rangers last night looked like a team that had its shit together. (Gary Bettman, if you’re reading this, please don’t fine us for cursing!) It’s only one game, but it was a generally satisfying one.

Having said that: After trailing 4-0, Ottawa again showed some life towards the end of the game. We’re not sure that any momentum from that would carry over to the second game — it’s just as likely that Ottawa would bounce back and play a better game in Game 2 anyway — but if nothing else, it serves as a reminder to the Rangers that the Senators can be dangerous. Still: One down, three (or depending on your mindset, fifteen) to go.

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Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images