Sens beating Rangers at their own game

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Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators celebrates his

Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators celebrates his third period goal against the New York Rangers with teammate Zenon Konopka. (April 21, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

The Senators stole Game 5 Saturday night by stealing the Rangers' identity.

Now the pesky team from Ottawa might steal this series Monday night. A relatively anonymous goaltender has outplayed The King, and a team that was picked by many to finish out of the playoffs has outworked and outmuscled the Rangers, who defined work and muscle this season.

It started with Craig Anderson, as much of a journeyman in the Senators' net as Henrik Lundqvist is established as the Rangers' best player. Anderson looked shaky on the Garden ice in Game 1 but has been sharp ever since.

Saturday night, he graduated to brilliant, making 41 saves to put the Senators one win away from the second round.

"He was [the difference]," John Tortorella said. But the Rangers' coach wouldn't concede anything else, other than the fact that his team is trailing and on the brink of elimination.

"I couldn't be happier with how hard we played,'' he said. "We'll just keep banging away."

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Grit, grind and goaltending has gotten the Rangers to this point, but the Senators surprised the Rangers with their superior versions of the first two attributes at times during the first four games.

The visitors, who went over the line when Matt Carkner mugged Brian Boyle at the start of Game 2, did it again Saturday night. Chris Neil delivered a shoulder to Boyle's head that surely will draw the interest of the very busy Brendan Shanahan, the NHL disciplinarian.

But that was the only instance of dirty play by the Sens. They otherwise just played tough, unwilling to back down from the relentless hitting the Rangers delivered.

It was, of course, that last item, goaltending, that may have turned shockingly in Ottawa's favor in Game 5.

Anderson, who bounced around the Blackhawks, Panthers and Avalanche organizations before becoming a Senator last season, had his good moments through four games. But in Game 5 at the Garden, he shut the door better than Lundqvist, which didn't seem possible at the start of this series.

This belief the Rangers have in their hard-hat identity manifests only through work. You can't coast on your reputation as the baddest and the bravest, finishing checks and blocking shots; those are the things a team has to do every night.

You also need a timely goal to seize control of a series. The Rangers threw their bodies around forcefully and frequently Saturday night, but with three first-period power plays, they needed more than just the ability to wear the edge off an opponent.

"The chances were there," Marian Gaborik said. "The power play has to be better, but we had chances."

As happened late in Game 4, with two third-period power plays that went wanting, the three in the first period Saturday night were just as disjointed.

There were more good chances in the second, the best a Brandon Dubinsky backhand from in tight that Anderson stopped with his left pad. Lundqvist was equal to the task, his best save a left-pad stop on Milan Michalek's breakaway attempt.

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Lundqvist was excellent as well, just a hair shy of Anderson. The Rangers' straight-from-amateur rookie Chris Kreider, had a very good third pro game, but the Sens' teenage amateur call-up, Mark Stone, set up Jason Spezza's first-period goal.

The Rangers have been good. The Senators have been better, playing the same way with the same attributes.

With the season down to possibly its final game, being good isn't good enough.

Not when the Senators are beating the Rangers at their own game.

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