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Anderson's hot play 'the difference' for surging Sens

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Craig Anderson has provided stellar goaltending for the Senators in their first-round playoff series against the Rangers, which is all square at 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Saturday in New York (Getty Images).

It is a sequence that is almost as old as the game of hockey itself.

Goaltender makes huge save at one end of the ice, the home crowd roars and his teammates take the puck the length of the ice and turn that momentum into a crushing goal for the opposition. Fewer things in the game are more lethal in terms of swinging the momentum.

So it was for Craig Anderson and the Senators on Wednesday night. With his team trailing 2-0 about seven minutes into the second period, Anderson made a huge stop and in a flash, the rebound made its way from the stick of Ottawa centre Jason Spezza to Matt Carkner, wide open at the New York Rangers' blue line after emerging from the penalty box.

From there, Carkner feathered a pass to Milan Michalek, who was streaking down the middle of the ice. He flipped a backhander past Blueshirts goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and just like that, the tide turned the Senators' way — never to reverse itself again. The goal ignited the 20,340 fans at Scotiabank Place, who in turn lit an even bigger fire under their hockey heroes. By the end of the night, Kyle Turris' overtime goal gave Ottawa a 3-2 triumph and squared the Eastern Conference final at 2-2.

It's essentially a best-of-three affair now in this utterly riveting series, with Game 5 set for Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). And the Senators know if they're to do the improbable and eliminate the East's No. 1 seed, the man between the pipes for them will have a big say in the outcome.

On Thursday, head coach Paul MacLean called Anderson "the difference" in the Game 4 win, a sentiment his teammates backed up in spades today.

"Having him make a lot of big saves for us helps us get going and allows us sometimes to make plays that we're not really sure about," Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson said about the confidence Anderson is giving the team. "He's been helping us out a lot and he's been a main factor in the two games that we've won ... It gets you fired up when he makes a big save for you."

Added forward Nick Foligno: "He's been outstanding for us. Any time you have a goalie back there making saves like that, it makes it easier on you. He has your back if you make a mistake and it makes you want to play that much better for him, to get some goals and help him out, too. That's what you want from your goaltender and I think he's done a great job for us in the playoffs."

"The last two games, he's been stealing goals from (the Rangers), for sure. We need that because Lundqvist is playing the same way. You need that to win in the playoffs and he's doing that for us. You can't really ask for much more. If your goalie is your best player, it gives the team lots of confidence." - Jared Cowen
The 30-year-old Anderson is no stronger to playoff success. Two years ago, he almost singlehandedly led a huge underdog Colorado Avalanche to a shocking first-round upset of the San Jose Sharks, who would go on to reach the Western Conference final. And here he is again, going toe-to-toe with Lundqvist — a favourite for the Vezina Trophy as the National Hockey League's top goaltender — and not flinching a bit.

"You feed off that a lot," veteran defenceman Chris Phillips said of Anderson's stellar play. "You need that part of the game to be playing well to win games and to move on. Throughout the course of the game, if maybe you're getting hemmed in or the (other) team is getting chances and your goalie is there to stop it, you can certainly feed off that ... those plays and that energy, especially at home."

While Anderson missed a month of action after suffering a right hand injury on Feb. 23, he's been razor sharp in the playoffs, posting a 2.24 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. After surrendering four goals in the series opener, the native of Park Ridge, Ill., has limited the Blueshirts to five goals in his last three starts.

"The last two games, he's been stealing goals from (the Rangers), for sure," said defenceman Jared Cowen. "We need that because Lundqvist is playing the same way. You need that to win in the playoffs and he's doing that for us. You can't really ask for much more.

"If your goalie is your best player, it gives the team lots of confidence. It doesn't change the way you play at all, but it just puts you at ease ... he's making saves (for us) and it's the difference right now."

Around the boards

MacLean confirmed today that captain Daniel Alfredsson (concussion) and forward Jesse Winchester (upper body) would not make the trip to New York, ruling out both for Saturday's Game 5. So who fills the void? Among the possibilities are Mike Hoffman, the Binghamton Senators' top scorer this season, and forward prospect Mark Stone, who joined the Senators for practice today. The 19-year-old Stone has recorded two straight 100-plus point seasons for the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings and was Canada's top goal scorer at the 2012 world juniors in Alberta. "Mark Stone has had an outstanding season and we wanted to make sure we got a look at him with our group," said MacLean. "He's going to travel with us to New York and we'll see if ... we decide to use him or not." ... Senators forward prospect Jakob Silfverberg, whose playoff MVP performance led Brynas IF to its first Swedish Elitserien crown since 1999, is expected to arrive in the capital on Sunday. But Senators general manager Bryan Murray told Ottawa media today that, as things now stand, there are no immediate plans to put him in the team's lineup ... Fewer than 150 tickets remain for Game 6 of the series, set for Monday at Scotiabank Place. 

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