NEW YORK– In their finest performance of the postseason, the New York Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals 4-1 from Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night to halve their series deficit.
As a must-win game, the Rangers had four different goal scorers from four different lines on the night and used an early push to clinch their first win of the series.
“That’s huge, especially in the playoffs you need every line kind of going,” Rick Nash, who scored the third goal of the night, said. “Tonight we had that and it was obviously a difference maker.”
New York was looking for a spark at home after such a demoralizing Game 2 loss to Ottawa in which they blew three two-goal leads and allowed Jean-Gabriel Pageau to light the lamp four times, including the double-overtime winner.
While Pageau did score again in Game 3, the Rangers flew upon hitting the Madison Square Garden ice.
As the more desperate team, New York quickly set the pace against a complacent-looking Senators side.
Mats Zuccarello started the scoring just 5:33 into the game, his fourth of the playoffs, slotting home a pass from Mika Zibanejad right in front of Craig Anderson’s goal. Most of the credit had to go to Zibanejad, who wheeled around the net and delivered the puck to Zuccarello in front while losing his balance.
Michael Grabner doubled New York’s advantage nine minutes later with Zuccarello playing provider, somewhat.
Zuccarello pushed the puck behind the net, where the Rangers continuously generated their offense, just to keep the puck deep in the zone. Ottawa defenseman Ben Harpur was unable to corral behind the net and the puck came right to Grabner on the left of Anderson’s goal.
The Senators goalie was at his right post following the play and was unable to cover the other side of his net before Grabner stuffed it home for his fourth goal of the postseason.
“I was just trying to get it deep,” Zuccarello said. “It was a lucky play and a good job by [Grabner], reading it and stealing the puck there.”
Had it not been for Anderson though, the Senators’ deficit could have been far worse as his team was outshot 15-5 in the first.
“We always talk about how it’s important to have good starts and our group understands the importance of getting it back to 2-1,” Derek Stepan said. “The best way to do it is to have a good start.”
There would be no relinquishing of a two-goal lead on Tuesday as the Rangers nabbed their third goal 12:21 into the second. On a two-on-one rush, Stepan fed Nash, who had nothing but Anderson in front of him before he tucked a wrister inside the left post.
The effort of J.T. Miller all but iced the game with 1:43 to go in the second, holding possession on a change in the Ottawa zone and working his way toward the net, he found a wide-open Oscar Lindberg to the right of Anderson for an easy tap in.
Pageau, however, did score his fifth goal in the last two games just 32 seconds after Lindberg’s first-ever playoff tally to get Ottawa on the scoreboard.
It would be the only blemish of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s night, who stopped 26 shots in the Game 3 win.
“We didn’t give up that much; it felt like we were in control for the most part and played a really smart game,” Lundqvist said. “It felt like they had some good bounces going their way up in Ottawa. We always talk about how you earn them, but tonight we made sure that if they were going to get anything, they had to earn it by working really hard. I think everybody felt like we played a really strong game when we needed it the most here.”