Head coach John Tortorella believed his charges were ready for the playoffs.
The coach was right.
“You don’t want to feel it out. You want to come out hard,” Brian Boyle said after the Rangers started their playoff season with a strong effort in their 4-2 win over the Senators Thursday night at the Garden.
“We did a pretty good job,” Boyle added.
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series, 1-0.
“We stayed within ourselves and found our game,” Tortorella said. “We found a way.”
It was a night when the important players led the way. Henrik Lundqvist made 30 saves. Ryan McDonagh outplayed Norris Trophy candidate Erik Karlsson. Artem Anisimov (two assists) and Brandon Dubinsky were strong throughout. Ryan Callahan, who hit everything in a white sweater, scored a goal. Boyle, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards chipped in with markers. The top line of Gaborik, Richards and Carl Hagelin combined for two goals and two assists for four points and a plus-four rating.
“We talked — the three of us on the bench — that we had to get something going,” Richards said of his line.
Callahan’s seventh career playoff goal opened the scoring 12:01 into the series. Callahan corralled a rebound of an Anton Stralman shot before whipping the puck diagonally into the goal behind Craig Anderson (27 saves).
But it was Ottawa who surged after Callahan’s marker. The Senators began to control the puck in the Rangers’ end for the final 10 minutes of the first and the first 10 minutes of the second. Yet, they could not break through because Lundqvist displayed Vezina form. The Sports Illustrated cover boy stoned Jason Spezza on a semi-breakaway 4:05 into second. He turned away Jim O’Brien from in-close 6:45 later.
“We were hemmed in for a bit and that’s when we need him to be big for us,” Dan Girardi said. “That’s what he’s been doing all year. He’s been big for us when we’ve been hemmed in or have a couple long shifts back-to-back.”
While Lundqvist was great, Anderson was shaky. Early in the second he came out to the blue line to break up a Callahan breakaway. However, he was unable to get back into position and had to watch as Mike Rupp’s empty-net shot from center ice sailed just wide.
Anderson’s luck ran out when Gaborik increased the lead to 2-0 with 3:36 left in second period. The Senators could not clear the zone and the league’s third-leading goal scorer walked in and held onto the puck, forcing Anderson to move first. When he did, Gaborik snapped a quick shot between the right leg and right post.
“We have to shoot the puck. We definitely have to shoot the puck. Drive the net and get some ugly goals,” Gaborik said.
Boyle’s pushed the advantage to 3-0 with first career playoff goal at 19:06 of the period in the second. Anderson could not control the rebound of Girardi’s slapper from the point. The puck bounced to the slot where a diving Anisimov backhanded it to a wide-open Boyle for the one-timer.
Richards ended any pretense of drama 2:15 into the third, making Daniel Alfredsson’s (10:05) and Erik Condra’s (17:41) goals merely window dressing.
“They gave it to us pretty good,” Anderson said. “They got a couple of goals there late in the second [that] kind of took momentum and we weren’t really able to get ourselves back in it after that.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for all the latest news on the team’s playoff run.