Entering these Stanley Cup playoffs, the Senators weren’t one of the Eastern Conference teams with whom the Rangers had bad blood. The Flyers? Sure. The Penguins? You bet. The Devils? Oh, yes. But the Senators? Not really. Even Wojtek Wolski — whose collision with Daniel Alfredsson earlier in the season concussed the Senators captain — is no longer with the Rangers. But in last night’s Game 2 — a 3-2 Ottawa overtime victory — the series took a turn for the nasty.
This was clear early in the first period when Ottawa’s Matt Carkner — a scratch in Game 1 — went after Brian Boyle, presumably in retaliation for Boyle getting some punches in on Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson at one point on Thursday night. As Carkner landed punch after punch on Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky joined in to protect his teammate, and the end result was ejections for both Carkner and Dubinsky, a five-minute Rangers power play, and a banged-up Gatorade bucket. Carkner did more than settle a score from Game 1, though: He set the tone for what would be a nasty, chippy game. (The events early on also turned the crowd against the officials, who were showered with chants of “these refs suck” last night.)
Carkner has a hearing set for this afternoon — and it’s not the only one Brendan Shanahan had to schedule as a result of Game 2. Carl Hagelin has a hearing, as well, because of the elbow that ended Alfredsson’s night midway through the second period and earned Hagelin a five-minute major. The Rangers led 1-0 at that point in the game — Anton Stralman had scored on a first-period power play — but Ottawa would tie the game with Hagelin in the box when Karlsson threw the puck towards the net and it deflected off Michael Del Zotto’s skate and into the goal.
For a while it seemed like Brian Boyle would get the last laugh in a game in which the Senators had targeted him: He continued his hot stretch by scoring 2:41 into the third period to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. But as the third period progressed, Ottawa was increasingly able to get bodies in front of Henrik Lundqvist, and attempt to fire pucks into the scrum. It eventually worked: Nick Foligno would score with 4:37 remaining in regulation to tie the game. Ottawa may have set the tone for this game early, but generally speaking, the Rangers don’t mind playing a physical game. They’re more than happy to scrap and grind and battle. What did them in last night was getting caught playing back on their heels with a one-goal lead in the third, when they spent far too much time in their own zone, letting the Sens — and especially Karlsson — fire pucks at Lundqvist. The best way to clear out Lundqvist’s crease is to take possession of the puck and go the other way with it, forcing Ottawa to play some defense while also gunning for an insurance goal.
Foligno’s goal forced overtime, but the OT wouldn’t last long: Chris Neil — who’d dropped the gloves with Boyle earlier in the game — netted the game winner, again after the Senators crowded the area in front of Lundqvist’s crease. (To add temporary injury to insult, the puck landed on Neil’s stick after Ryan McDonagh dropped down to block the original point shot. McDonagh skated off the ice in obvious pain; via Rick Carpiniello, he got hit “in the onions,” but is okay.)
The Rangers didn’t play a terrible game last night, and it’s encouraging that over the first two games in this series, they’ve gotten the secondary scoring that they’ll need to advance in these playoffs. Still, there’s room for improvement on the power play, and they can’t allow Ottawa’s offense to control the puck and create traffic in front the way they did last night. The Senators played the Rangers well enough during the regular season that John Tortorella’s team had to know they wouldn’t cruise in this series. And after two games, Ottawa has stolen away home-ice advantage, and returns home on Monday with the series knotted at one.
So far, five of the eight series in these playoffs are tied at one game apiece, and the only two teams that trail 2-0 are Presidents’ Trophy winners (Vancouver) and the favorites to come out of the East (Pittsburgh.) Which is to say: The Stanley Cup playoffs are unpredictable and chaotic. Why should this series be any different?