OTTAWA (AP) — Game 7 at the Garden.
It’s not necessarily what the top-seeded Rangers were hoping for when their first-round Eastern Conference series against Ottawa started, but they’re thrilled about it now.
Brad Richards scored the go-ahead goal and Derek Stepan had a goal and two assists as New York staved off elimination with a 3-2 victory against the Senators on Monday night.
“We showed some desperation tonight,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said.
The series heads back to New York for Game 7 on Thursday night. It’s the first Game 7 in any sport at Madison Square Garden in 17 years.
Not even the return of Daniel Alfredsson, who missed three games with a concussion, in front of the fired-up home crowd at Scotiabank Place could help the eighth-seeded Senators complete the upset.
“I didn’t really think that we played particularly well or worked particularly hard,” Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said.
Carl Hagelin returned to the Rangers lineup after sitting out a three-game suspension for his elbow on Alfredsson
The Rangers broke through in the second with three goals after going six straight periods without scoring.
Chris Neil gave Ottawa a 1-0 lead in the first with a power-play goal and Jason Spezza cut it to 3-2 with 39 seconds left to play in the third. That goal was reviewed after some question about whether Spezza kicked it in.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 25 saves. “It still upsets me because we had this game, then they get a chance. Someone wants them back in the game, obviously, because there’s no other explanation.”
In the first, Neil was planted at the edge of Lundqvist’s crease along with teammate Zack Smith when Ottawa’s power play put it ahead 1-0 at 7:05. Sergei Gonchar’s point shot deflected in off Neil’s skate as he tried to jump out of the way.
That got the frenzied towel-waving crowd into a lather that only increased when Neil answered Brandon Prust’s challenge for a fight eight minutes later.
The momentum seemed to be completely in Ottawa’s favor when the first intermission hit, especially with goalie Craig Anderson locked into a lengthy shutout streak and looking sharp once again.
But the Senators lost their focus in the second period and referees Steve Kozari and Tim Peel gave the Rangers four power plays.
“The power play helped, we scored a couple of power-play goals,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella.
Stepan tied the game 1-1 during the first one at 8:55, taking two whacks at a sweet pass from Richards to beat Anderson. That ended the Rangers scoring drought at 145 minutes, 27 seconds.
A call that Ottawa fans will question helped put New York ahead for good.
“You look at the scoresheet and special teams was a huge part of tonight,” Ottawa’s Chris Phillips said. “It’s tough when you’re in the box, but on the other side we’ve got to take advantage when we’ve got the extra man and we’ve got to do a better job of that in Game 7.”
New York received a lengthy 5-on-3 after Nick Foligno was sent off for goaltender interference — replays showed two Rangers players guiding him into Lundqvist — and Richards took advantage of the extra space by skating off the wall and beating Anderson high at 17:08.
“I’m not sure about (Foligno’s) call, it’s a bit of a tough call to put a team down 5-on-3 in a real tight series,” Spezza said. “We haven’t seen one of those yet, either way and they get a lot of momentum from that and we give them the late goal.”
That was soon followed by a back-breaking goal from Kreider, the first of his NHL career. He sneaked a shot through Anderson with 40.3 seconds to play in the period to make it 3-1.
Ottawa successfully staged a number of dramatic comebacks during the regular season — they also erased a two-goal deficit while winning Game 4 — and had plenty of opportunities to mount another one here. But Lundqvist held the Senators at bay on two power plays, denying Kyle Turris point blank and having a Chris Phillips shot ring off the post.
The Sens managed to squeeze one puck over the goal-line in the final minute, with Spezza getting credit at 19:21 after a long video review.
The last Game 7 at the Garden was in the NBA. The Knicks lost 97-95 to Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals. The last time the Rangers hosted a Game 7 was 1994, when they beat Vancouver to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
After six games, there has been very little to choose between teams that were separated by 10 wins and 17 points through the regular season. But the Senators have one more chance to pull off the upset, needing only one more victory at Madison Square Garden, where they are a combined 4-1 this year.
“When you win in a building, it definitely gives you a little bit of confidence,” Spezza said. “But we know it’s going to be a battle — both teams are playing for their lives and nobody wants to go home. Seventh games are special. It’s going to be intense.”
NOTES: Turris briefly left the game in the first period after a blocking a shot, but returned … Swedish forward Jakob Silfverberg made his NHL debut for the Senators … New York’s Brian Boyle didn’t make the trip after suffering a concussion on a hit from Neil in Game 5 … Two of Alfredsson’s sons, Loui and Hugo, were on the ice with Sens flags when the team came out at the start of the game … Former Senators Igor Kravchuk and Shaun Van Allen were among the announced crowd of 20,500.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)