The top-seeded New York Rangers avoided a first-round exit from the National Hockey League playoffs by winning on the road to force a decisive seventh game against the Ottawa Senators.
The Rangers won 3-2 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa last night against the eighth-seeded Senators to tie their series at three games apiece. The final game will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York on April 26.
Derek Stepan scored the first of New York’s three goals midway through the second period to tie the game and added two assists. Brad Richards and rookie Chris Kreider scored the other two goals late in the period.
“It’s tough to close out a series when you know you have another game to play, so we knew that if we could just stay in the game, get a little momentum, it was going to be tough for them,” Richards told reporters. “We like our chances.”
Kreider, who turns 21 next week, is the first player since 1987 to appear in the NHL postseason in the same year that he won a national college championship. Kreider, who this month helped Boston College to the National Collegiate Athletic Association title, scored his first professional goal by beating Craig Anderson with a 31-foot wrist shot.
Asked whether he thinks it’s surprising for his first NHL playoff series to go to a seventh game, Kreider said, “Nothing surprises me at this point. It’s just another awesome opportunity.”
Kreider’s teammates said they’re impressed by the youngster’s play.
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“That’s big games that he’s stepped himself in there in the beginning of his career,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “He got an opportunity there and buried his big shot. That’s what we like to see.”
The scoring in the second period marked New York’s first goals since the opening period of the fourth game, breaking a streak of six full shutout periods plus 2 minutes 42 seconds of overtime.
The Rangers are not the only favored team to have trouble in the opening round of this year’s playoffs. The second-seeded Boston Bruins need to win tomorrow against the Washington Capitals to advance in seven games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who entered the playoffs as oddmakers’ favorite to win the Stanley Cup, lost in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Vancouver Canucks, who lost last year’s Stanley Cup Finals to the Bruins and were the top seed in the Western Conference, were eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings.
The Rangers failed in the first round on their previous two visits to the playoffs, last year and in 2009, and haven’t won the NHL championship since 1994, the last time they were a top seed.
“After the first goal I felt like we got a lot of confidence and started building our game,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 25 of 27 shots including a second-period save against Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who returned after missing three games with a concussion. “I’m just happy that we played a really good game.”
The Rangers are still at risk of joining a club of 10 No. 1-seeded teams that have lost to an eighth seed under the playoff format created in 1994.
“We knew it was going to be a long series, we knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle and we’re in it until the end,” Senators goalie Anderson said. “It’s going to come down to one game and who wants it more.”
The Senators are seeking to advance in the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2007. They took the lead 7:05 into the first period last night when Sergei Gonchar’s slapshot from the point was tipped in by Chris Neil on a power play.
Ottawa pulled Anderson for an extra skater in the closing minutes and scored with 39 seconds left when a shot by Jason Spezza trickled past Lundqvist. The goal stood after officials reviewed the video to see if Neil had kicked the puck in.
New York coach John Tortorella continued his practice of giving brief responses to most questions after the victory, including two answers that had a combined total of eight words.
“We did what we had to do to win a hockey game,” Tortorella said. “That’s all we want to do is win one.”