OTTAWA -- In a series as evenly played as the one by the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, it's only fitting that it will come down to a decisive Game 7.
A three-goal onslaught in the final 11 minutes of the second period helped the Rangers overcome an early deficit and hang on for a 3-2 victory in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Monday night at Scotiabank Place.
The top-seeded Rangers and eighth-seeded Senators will play their winner-take-all contest Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in New York.
"We played well. We played really well," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 25 saves and has allowed just 11 goals in the series. "I think it was important that we stayed confident after the first period. After we got the first goal, I felt like we got a lot of confidence and started building our game."
It appeared as though the Rangers were never going to solve Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, who made 68 consecutive saves going back to Game 4 and had a 41-save shutout in Game 5. But it was Rangers forward Derek Stepan, who hadn't scored in 10 games dating to the regular season and in 10 career playoff games, who sparked the offensive outburst.
Stepan, who also added two assists, drew the Rangers even with a power-play goal at 8:55 of the middle period. Center Brad Richards surveyed the Senators' penalty-killers and threaded a pass from the right circle to the left post, where Stepan was able to chip it past Anderson to make it 1-1.
The goal ended Anderson's shutout streak in the series at 145:27.
"I got a little bit of a monkey off my back, which is good," Stepan said. "When you're gripping the stick and having a tough time scoring, it's definitely a relief when you can find the back of the net. Not only is that, but our power play gets a lift from it too. It's two pretty important things right there."
The Rangers' power play converted again with 2:52 left in the period, this time on an extended 5-on-3 advantage. Once again, it was Richards coming up big, driving a slap shot through Anderson from the right circle to make it 3-1.
The Rangers have five power-play goals in the series and 13 man-advantage goals in their last 12 games, including the regular season.
Just 2:11 later, Chris Kreider scored his first NHL goal in his fourth career game to put the Rangers ahead 3-1. Once again, it was Stepan creating the goal with a sharp pass from the right wing to the left side, where Kreider buried a quick shot to the stick side to silence the once-raucous sellout crowd.
"He's handled himself well," Rangers coach John Tortorella said of Kreider, who left Boston College after his junior season and signed with the club just before the start of the playoffs. "He's played very well. He played pretty good the other night, too. He's played two good ones."
The final two goals were made possible by a great save by Lundqvist while the game was deadlocked at 1-1.
Ottawa's Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, who was back in the lineup after missing the previous three games with a concussion, found themselves in a 2-on-1 situation along the goal line. Spezza delivered a pass across the crease to Alfredsson, who was denied by a quick-moving Lundqvist at the left post.
"I kind of know he's there," Lundqvist said, "so I know when the pass comes, I just try to come across and take it away. That's what they like to do. They like to freeze you and go across instead of shooting, so you have to be patient and look around you all the time."
The Senators took a one-goal lead into the first intermission thanks to Chris Neil's power-play goal at 7:05. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar fired a shot from the blue line with Neil and Zack Smith obstructing Lundqvist's view. The puck tipped off Neil's skate and into the net to make it 1-0.
With five minutes remaining, Rangers forward Brandon Prust attempted to exact some revenge against Neil, who delivered a hit to Brian Boyle during the third period of Game 5 that left Boyle concussed and unavailable for Game 6.
Neil was the clear winner of the bout, and he spent part of the fight waving the crowd as he delivered a series of right hands to Prust's head.
Despite the one-sided outcome of the rumble and the Rangers not getting their first goal of the game until midway through the second period, Prust's teammates praised him for giving them a lift while down a goal.
"When I'm fighting, it's not usually for me," Prust said. "It's to get the guys going. I think most of it's just trying to get the guys going, give the guys a spark and a little jump and maybe a little bit for Boyler, too."
After the lopsided third period, Senators coach Paul MacLean made a statement by benching stars Alfredsson, Spezza and Milan Michalek for a long stretch. They eventually returned to the ice and helped make the final seconds somewhat interesting with a late goal.
Spezza was awarded his third goal of the series off a wild net-mouth scramble with 38.4 seconds remaining in regulation. Spezza's initial try was stopped by Lundqvist, but Chris Neil helped dig the puck loose and propel it into the net.
Replays showed clearly that Neil tried to kick the puck into the net, but video review proved to be inconclusive in determining whether Neil made contact with the puck. After the game, Lundqvist lashed out at the call and was thoroughly perplexed why the goal wasn't overturned.
It didn't matter, as the Rangers survived the final seconds to set up a Game 7 showdown.
"A win helps," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "We're going back home to our building. We're confident in there. Game 7s are a lot of fun. We'll be ready. We put this by us and look ahead and get ourselves ready to go for Game 7."
"We've got to regroup. We've got two days. We know we've played well in their building and we have to come out with another gutsy effort. Everybody knows Game 7, anything can happen. We have a couple of days to get ready."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo