If the top-seeded New York Rangers learned one thing about Ottawa Saturday night, it’s that if the eighth-ranked Senators go down in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal, they’re going to do so swinging, and swinging, and swinging some more.
Ottawa set a violent tone early in Game 2 during a nasty fight just 2:15 into the game — one that led to the ejection of two players — and the Senators maintained that level of anger, protectiveness and physical play all night long in a 3-2 overtime win to tie the series at 1-1.
Before the puck even dropped, it was clear what Ottawa coach Paul MacClean’s game plan was going to be for Game 2. Absent from the lineup were forward Kaspars Daugavins and defenseman Matt Gilroy and in their places were bruisers Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka, each of whom sat out Game 1.
And, make no mistake about it; Carkner and Konopka knew what their purpose was once they hit the ice. From the moment 6-foot-7, 244-pound Rangers forward Brian Boyle roughed up Ottawa’s 6-foot, 180-pound star defenseman Erik Karlsson in Game 1, the Senators wanted redemption.
“There had to be some sort of retribution,” said Konopka, who had two hits and won seven of 12 faceoffs in 11:30 of ice time. “We’ve got to look out for each other.”
So, the first chance Carkner got, the 6-foot-4, 237-pound defenseman smashed Boyle into the boards. Then, before Boyle — who, it was clear, wanted no part of the fisticuffs — could even get his gloves off, he had been dropped to the ice by two swift blows.
Carkner then took advantage of Boyle’s vulnerable position, straddling the turtling Boyle and landing a number of uncontested blows before Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky intervened and a larger-scale scrum ensued.
In the end, Carkner received a game misconduct for starting the fight, as did Dubinsky for being the third man in, but the message had been sent, and that — for the Senators, at least — was the whole point.
“Obviously, it feels nice,” said Karlsson, whose second-period goal — one that went in off of Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto’s skate — tied the game at 1-1.
“He’s good at what he’s doing, and he did his job. Unfortunately he got kicked out of the game, but that’s how it’s going to be. They got one guy out as well, so it was a good trade for us.”
The early end to two players’ nights hardly signaled the end of the fighting, though. At the 11:43 mark of the first period, Boyle and Ottawa right-winger Chris Neil dropped gloves near the Senators bench.
“We came out and we wanted to establish a physical game, and I thought for the most part we did that,” said Neil, who later scored the game-winning goal just 1:17 into the extra period.
“We had everyone contributing to that and you don’t have to be the biggest guy out there, but you can throw some checks and get in guys way and just win some puck battles.”
With 9:28 left in the second period, Rangers took their turn as the aggressors as rookie Carl Hagelin picked up an elbowing penalty for driving Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson into the boards, a hit that knocked Alfredsson out of the game with what was reportedly a concussion.
“You don’t want to see that happen,” Karlsson said of the hit on his fellow Swede, whose status for Monday’s game is unknown, “and hopefully the league is going to take a look at it and get it right.”
The bad blood was certainly the big story Saturday — along with an unusual second-period series during which two pucks somehow ended up on the ice — but amid all the pushing and shoving and the general sense of chaos, the Rangers and Senators also found time for a hockey game.
Boyle earned his redemption for the two early fights in the form of a third-period, go-ahead goal, one that seemed, for most of the final frame, as though it would be his second straight game-winner.
But as the period wore on, the Rangers dropped further and further back on defense. And in the end, their lack of aggressiveness got the best of them, as Nick Foligno’s goal with 4:37 to play tied the game and sent it to overtime.
“There’s always a natural tendency that you end up defending,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “I don’t think we played that poorly, but I do think we need to continue to try to attack.”
The coaches, after the game, had little to say about the early fights and the physical turn the series has taken, with MacLean repeating a mantra of, “I don’t have an opinion on that,” and Tortorella saying he “wasn’t going to talk about it.”
But should Alfredsson have to miss any time — and really, even if he doesn’t — it’s probably safe to say that someone on New York’s roster will pay the price, and Carkner and Konopka may be the ones tasked with delivering the big hits once again.
“We wanted to come in here and defend ourselves and play a hard-nosed game and we did what we had to do to stick up for each other,” said Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson, who had 30 saves. “We’re playing for the crest on the front of our jerseys, and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’re going to stick together.”
Carkner’s attack on Boyle Saturday may have been gutless, but it came from a place of deliverance, and that fight and the five-minute penalty kill that followed sparked a redemptive effort from the Senators, who now have home-ice advantage.
“This is what playoff hockey is all about,” MacLean said. “It’s responding after one game and responding in the second game, and we’re going to have to respond in the third game. We’re looking forward to getting home and protecting what we earned here today, but we know it’s going to be hard.”
"There’s going to be a lot of stitches and blood before this series is over," Konopka said.
Ottawa may not have the talent on offense to win a seven-game series against the heavily favored Rangers, but even if the Senators can’t beat New York’s skill, Saturday’s win gave them reason to believe they might be able to beat them into submission.