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Senators can't be considered underdogs any longer

Impressive win against Rangers in Game 1 gives Ottawa lead in series

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

OTTAWA -- Guy Boucher sounded world-weary, like a man who had been through trying times. And maybe he had. Maybe his nerves were shot and his blood pressure was up and he truly felt like his Ottawa Senators had somehow lucked into their 2-1 win against the New York Rangers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series.

Or maybe it was all an act. It's hard not to believe the latter.

Since the Senators defeated the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Boucher has positioned his team as underdogs, pushing a narrative of long odds and the monumental foe that is the Rangers. He was still at it after Game 1.

 

[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Senators series coverage | Methot's unsung play sets up Senators for Game 1 win]

 

"I think players didn't want to get swept in four [games]," Boucher said, with nary a smile. "We hear it from everybody, how good they are. And it's all we could hear is how much they're going to crush us. It is a scary team. They've got four lines and their goaltender is outstanding. So maybe there was a lot of fear tonight that helped us."

Maybe.

Or maybe, as Boucher well knows, he has a team worthy of being in the second round, worthy of playing the Rangers toe-to-toe, worthy of having home-ice advantage.

And though more prognosticators picked the Rangers to win -- New York finished the season with 102 points to Ottawa's 98 -- if the Senators are going to mix the ingredients they did on Thursday at Canadian Tire Centre, this will be a long, drawn-out series.

There was Craig Anderson. There was Erik Karlsson. There was a power-play goal that tied the game deep into the second period, at 18:39 by Ryan Dzingel, and three other power plays that threatened to do more damage. There was a team that repeatedly frustrated the Rangers and forced them out of the speed game they revel in.

Video: NYR@OTT, Gm1: Karlsson nets tough shot for lead

Had the Senators encountered anyone less than Henrik Lundqvist in the opposing goal, they would have won this game easily. They had 21 shots in the first period -- a postseason franchise record for one period -- and didn't see a single one get past him. They finished with 43 shots.

That's a testament to Lundqvist. But it's also a testament to the Senators.

Still, as Boucher said, working his angle, "Anything below 40 shots, really, we're not going to score anything. We know that. And we got a lucky one at the end."

Sure, there was an element of luck to the game-winning goal, in that it came from an impossible angle along the goal line and bounced off Lundqvist's face mask before entering the net with 4:11 remaining in the third period.

But that doesn't mean the Senators wouldn't have scored and wouldn't have won this game.

As Karlsson said, "The amount of pucks that we put on the net, we were well deserved with one of those."

Because they are hardly the underdogs Boucher is making them out to be, or that they were making themselves out to be before this series.

Boucher, in his first year in Ottawa, has instituted an effective, deadly defensive system, a 1-3-1 that can be so frustrating. He has gotten all he could ask for out of Anderson, who allowed one goal on 35 shots, a long-distance Ryan McDonagh power-play score at 7:10 of the second period.

Video: NYR@OTT, Gm1: Anderson snares Smith's rebound attempt

And though Lundqvist had more highlight-reel saves, making big stops on Mark Stone, Viktor Stalberg and Dzingel, Anderson had plenty of his own. Perhaps his most crucial came with 6:00 remaining in the third period of a tie game, a snap shot by Brendan Smith that Anderson gloved.

"When we needed him to, he made those unbelievable saves on breakaways and two-on-ones," Karlsson said. "And he made those saves when they were shooting from the outside. He had great rebound control. He found a way to stay calm in there even though they had pressure for a couple of periods.

"He's been solid for us all year long and all playoffs so far."

Video: NYR@OTT, Gm1: Anderson stifles McDonagh's break

That will need to continue. With Lundqvist as good as he is -- and, especially, how good he is right now -- that will be a requirement for the Senators to advance. As defenseman Marc Methot said, "That's a great hockey team we're playing against over there, and they will get opportunities. We're going to be relying heavily on our goaltender like you saw tonight with Andy. He played fantastic. That's been the recipe for most of our wins this season."

So even though the Rangers are favored and the odds aren't entirely in Ottawa's favor, the Senators proved in Game 1 that they more than belong in this series, that they can hold their own and beat the Rangers, that they are worthy.

Even if their coach still isn't quite ready to admit it.

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