NEW YORK -- If the Ottawa Senators can figure out a way to take their mind-boggling success during the third period this season and use it during the first 40 minutes, they could become one of the most dangerous teams in the League.
Facing a three-goal deficit midway through the third period Saturday afternoon, the Senators scored three goals in 7:52 to force overtime against the New York Rangers. Milan Michalek, who tied the score with 2:50 left in regulation, fired home the only goal in the shootout to give the Senators a stirring 5-4 victory at Madison Square Garden.
"It's just another great comeback win for us," said Ottawa's Jason Spezza, who scored both of his goals during the third-period rally. "We're making this somewhat regular and not making it easy on ourselves, but we're finding a way to get wins and it shows the great character of our team right now."
The Senators have won five straight games after a 1-5 start to the season, and it's mostly because of heroic third-period efforts. Saturday's win marks the third time this season that the Senators erased a third-period deficit to get a victory. In another game, they scored five third-period goals but came up short in a 6-5 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In the third period this season, the Senators have outscored the opposition 20-17; during the first two periods, they've been outscored 26-13.
"There's nothing that's old habit about our hockey team at this point in time," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "It shows great character and resiliency that we continue to play. We're learning to handle adversity. We certainly have a belief that a big part of building our foundation is playing hard for 60 minutes and we're getting rewarded for doing that."
Perhaps a heavy price will be paid by the Senators for this comeback. With about 8 minutes left in regulation, captain Daniel Alfredsson had to be helped to the locker room after he took a hit to the head from the Rangers' Wojtek Wolski, who received a two-minute penalty for the infraction. Spezza scored on the ensuing power play to make it a 4-3 game, but a clearly dazed Alfredsson did not return.
After the game, MacLean said he had no update on Alfredsson's status. Rangers coach John Tortorella felt the hit shouldn't have been penalized, but replays showed Wolski made contact with Alfredsson's head.
"You don't like seeing hits like that," Spezza said. "I didn't get a good look at it, but when you see your captain lying on the ice like that, you're obviously worried. You want to make sure he's safe and you want to make sure you make them pay for the penalty."
That was the tact the Rangers took when they awarded a five-minute power play after the Senators' Zenon Konopka was given a major penalty for boarding in the second period with the Senators ahead 1-0. Artem Anisimov, the recipient of the hit, was face-down on the ice and motionless for about a minute, but was able to return for his next shift.
The score remained that way until the third period, when Marian Gaborik and Richards, who weren't linemates to start a game for the first time this season, scored 3:12 apart to make it 4-1 and seemingly put the Senators away. Each player had three points as the Rangers showed some rare offensive life.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, this young Senators team doesn't believe in rolling over when trailing big in the third period.
"The League is just too good -- you can stop playing," Richards said. "You have to control pucks. You don't have to make it 8-1, but you still have to play your game like you're trying to score and do stuff offensively, and we stopped doing that."
Spezza cut the lead to 4-2 by deflecting a Filip Kuba prayer to the crease that somehow pinballed past Lundqvist at 9:18. Spezza cashed in 40 seconds after Alfredsson left the game, and Michalek was a one-man wrecking crew on his tying goal.
With the Senators pressing as though they were on a power play even though it was 5-on-5, Michalek snapped a wrist shot from the right circle. But the puck only weakly slid on net. However, Michalek beat Richards to the rebound and got off a second shot that squeezed through Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to tie the score and send the game to overtime.
"We were thinking to ourselves, we've done it in the past and we can do it again," said Michalek of the team's mindset after falling behind 4-1. "We've come back a few times this season and it shows strength in our team. If we just stay patient and keep going, it's paid off."
Michalek's shootout goal, a deke to the backhand that ended with a roofed shot over a sprawling Lundqvist, capped the latest Senators comeback. MacLean said it was more special than the others, because they didn't do it in the cozy confines of Scotiabank Place.
"I think doing what we did at home is one thing because the crowd is in your favor," MacLean said. "Coming on the road and doing it is a little bit different. Here, being down by three, and getting two points out of the game on the road, those are the kind of building blocks you're leaning on down the road."
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1 - 0 OTT
Michael Del Zotto
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NYR
3 - 1 NYR
4 - 1 NYR
4 - 2 NYR
4 - 3 NYR