Craig Anderson marveled at the history portrayed on the walls of Madison Square Garden. His playoff performance against the New York Rangers will certainly be remembered even if it’s not celebrated at the ”World’s Most Famous Arena.”
Anderson stopped 41 shots and made Jason Spezza’s first-period goal and empty-netter stand up as the Ottawa Senators pushed the top-seeded Rangers to the brink of elimination with a 2-0 victory Saturday night in Game 5.
”You walk down the hallway and you see the photos of who’s played here and what sporting events have happened here,” Anderson said. ”It’s just magical. To be part of it is beyond words.”
If things go well at home, he and the Senators won’t have to make a return trip to the Garden until next season.
The Senators, the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, have won two straight and will have a chance to knock out the Rangers on Monday night. If New York can stay alive, the deciding Game 7 would be back in New York on Thursday night.
”We know we are going to get their best,” Spezza said. ”The first thing you learn is that the toughest thing is to put a team out of the playoffs. We can enjoy this one for all of 10 minutes and get refocused. We know they are the best team in the East. They’ll give us their best game and we have to be sure we match that.”
Spezza sealed this win by scoring with 55.3 seconds remaining, and Anderson was perfect in earning his second career NHL playoff shutout. He stood tall in the third period when the Rangers pressed for the tying goal. Since New York took a 2-0 lead in the first period of its 3-2 overtime loss in Game 4, Anderson has gone 116 minutes, 32 seconds without allowing a goal — stopping 66 consecutive shots. He has given up just five goals in four games.
Rangers coach John Tortorella rarely heaps praise on opposing players, but he admitted that Anderson was the difference in this one. He said there was plenty to like about the Rangers’ game, except for the poor power play and the result.
”I feel better about the team after tonight’s game than a couple of wins,” he said. ”We go to Ottawa and have to play the same way and keep banging away and see if we can score some goals.”
New York has managed only three in three games, including a 1-0 road victory in Game 3.
Henrik Lundqvist nearly matched Anderson’s performance and made 28 saves for New York. The Rangers have come back to win only one series in which they trailed 3-2.
”It hurts,” Lundqvist said. ”It’s not a fun situation, that’s for sure. This is not over, but we’re in a tough position. We don’t need to change much. We’re right there.”
The Rangers join the West’s top seed — the Vancouver Canucks — in being one loss away from an unexpected early summer. Boston, the No. 2 seed in the East, also is down 3-2 in its series against Washington.
It now also appears that the Rangers might have to play without forward Brian Boyle, who was injured in the third period when he was hit late and high by Ottawa agitator Chris Neil. The 6-foot-7 Boyle, who scored in each of the first three games of the series and has three of New York’s nine total goals, sustained a concussion, according to Tortorella.
Tortorella compared the hit to one delivered by Phoenix’s Raffi Torres, who was suspended by the NHL on Saturday for 25 games for his shot that sent Chicago’s Marian Hossa to the hospital.
”He’s concussed and out,” Tortorella said about Boyle. ”Exact same hit as Torres. ”He launches himself, head shot. The puck is at the goal line when he’s hit. The blueprint is there. He’s a repeat offender, too. Not too much research to be done there.
”It’s just a dangerous, dangerous, cheap hit.”
Neil didn’t receive a penalty. Boyle returned a few minutes later on the Rangers’ penalty kill, but that was his last shift of the night.
Ottawa would be an unlikely participant in the second round, especially if the Senators get there without captain Daniel Alfredsson, who has been sidelined since Game 2 because of a concussion following a hit by Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin. Hagelin, suspended three games by the NHL for the hit, is eligible to return Monday.
It was assumed that rookie Chris Kreider would come out of the Rangers lineup then, but his increased confidence and Boyle’s injury could change those plans.
Now New York’s special season hangs in the balance in Game 6.
”Win that one and bring it back here,” Rangers forward Brad Richards said. ”It’s just going to take seven games now. That’s the reality.”
The Rangers fired 15 shots at Anderson in the third period, but couldn’t get a puck past him — even during their fourth power play of the night.
Senators coach Paul MacLean said this was the best he has seen Anderson, who set the club record for saves in a playoff shutout.
”To shut a team out on the road is pretty tough to do, especially in the playoffs in this atmosphere,” Spezza said. ”When Andy is seeing the puck well and seeing things from the outside, that’s when he’s at his best.
Spezza netted his first goal of the series 9:18 in off an assist from teenager Mark Stone, who made his NHL debut after playing junior hockey last week.
In the previous four games, the Rangers trailed only twice — at the end of overtime in their two losses. Coming from behind hadn’t be part of New York’s plan until Spezza broke out of his funk with his first goal of the series.
About 30 seconds after Ottawa killed its first short-handed situation of the opening period, Spezza gave the Senators their first in-game lead in five games.
Filip Kuba sent a pass from the Senators’ end of the ice up to the neutral zone to Stone, who filled in for injured forward Jesse Winchester (upper body). Stone waited just outside the Rangers blue line and then made a short pass in front of him to Spezza at the bottom of the right circle. Spezza, who had 34 goals and a team-high 84 points in the regular season, showed off his scoring touch by deftly snapping a shot between Lundqvist’s pads.
”The play was made by Mark Stone,” MacLean said. ”To make a play like that on his first shift in the National Hockey League is pretty impressive.”
Spezza let out a roar and emphatically punched the glass in the corner, as if to release the remaining bit of frustration that grew during his drought.
The nervous Madison Square Garden crowd quickly became quiet and stayed that way for much of the rest of the first period, except to cheer a few big hits by the Rangers and to boo after New York’s third failed power play at the end of the frame.
The Rangers had their chances to score first for the fifth consecutive game, or get even, but their power-play woes did them in again. After failing to score on a hooking call against Sergei Gonchar, and an interference penalty on Jared Cowen, New York nearly gave up a short-handed goal after Spezza went off for roughing up Rangers captain Ryan Callahan with a gloved punch to the face during an after-whistle scrum.
Defenseman Dan Girardi made a pass along the blue line, leading to a breakaway by Erik Condra, that was snuffed out by Lundqvist after Condra lost control of the puck during his sprint up the ice.
The power plays shifted in Ottawa’s favor in the second period, but the Senators couldn’t take advantage of the three they got, either.
Ruslan Fedotenko went off for high-sticking in the opening minute, Mike Rupp was called for charging Jim O’Brien with 6:12 left, and Callahan went off for roughing when he came to the defense of Marian Gaborik, who was knocked to the ice by a late hit from Ottawa’s Colin Greening that went unpenalized.
Lundqvist was particularly sharp in the second, making 12 saves — including a handful of tough chances created by misplays by his teammates.
NOTES: The 19-year-old Stone helped Canada win the silver medal at the World Junior Championship. … The Rangers’ power play was 1 for 11 in the opening three games of the series before a pair of goals in the first period of Game 4 gave New York a 2-0 lead. But since then, it has failed on nine straight chances.