The Rangers compiled 109 points and earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, thanks to a combination of grit, resiliency and timely goals, and deserved the accolades they received.
In the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, those numbers have meant nothing. But they will need the grit, resiliency and timely goals in Game 6 in Ottawa Monday night to prevent a shocking early exit.
Goaltender Craig Anderson was sensational in Game 5 Saturday night, stopping 41 shots as the eighth-seeded Senators beat the Rangers, 2-0, at Madison Square Garden to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series and push the Rangers to the brink of elimination.
Game 7, if necessary, is scheduled for Thursday here.
The Rangers also suffered the loss of Brian Boyle, who has three goals in this series, to a concussion on a high hit from Chris Neil 5:20 into the third period, a check that will be reviewed by the league. "He's concussed, he's out," coach John Tortorella said. Boyle was not on the ice for the final 6:55.
"It hurts," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 28 saves in a valiant effort. "It's a big game. We obviously hoped to come back and take charge. We did a lot of good things again, but it comes down to that last touch."
It was the fourth time in the last two opening rounds that the Rangers were blanked, twice by Washington in 2009 and once by the Capitals last year.
Trailing 1-0 in the third period on Jason Spezza's first-period goal -- which put the Senators ahead in regulation for the first time in the series -- the Rangers desperately tried to solve Anderson but simply couldn't finish and were 0-for-4 on the power play. After Lundqvist was pulled with 1:20 to go, Spezza blocked Marian Gaborik's pass and scored an empty-netter with 55.3 seconds left.
Publicly, the Rangers were confident. "We have to win one in their building to keep us alive instead of closing it out," said Brad Richards, who along with Derek Stepan had seven shots. "It's just going to take seven games now."
With 6:39 left in regulation, the Rangers were awarded their fourth power play when Milan Michalek slashed Ruslan Fedotenko's stick. Anderson stopped Stepan, and Tortorella called a timeout with 1:18 left in the power play, but his strategy talk was to no avail.
"We generated a lot of scoring chances," said Gaborik, who had 41 goals during the season but, like Richards, has only one in this series. "We just have to score some goals. We have to shoot everything and screen him [Anderson]."
The Rangers dominated the first few minutes of the game by driving to the net with the puck. Anderson stopped 14 shots in the first period as the Rangers were unable to cash in on three power plays.
Ottawa took the lead when Mark Stone, a 19-year-old making his NHL debut, threaded a pass from above the right circle ahead to Spezza, who beat Lundqvist at 9:18. It was Spezza's first goal of the series.
With 2:15 left in the first, Spezza threw a right to the face of Ryan Callahan as he was held in front, creating the third power play, and perhaps the worst effort by the Rangers. The Senators cleared the zone four times, and Dan Girardi's ill-advised cross-ice pass led to Erik Condra's shorthanded breakaway. Lundqvist stoned Condra, but the period ended with an avalanche of boos from the disgruntled crowd.
In the second, the Rangers spent more time on the penalty kill (six minutes) than the power play. Lundqvist kept it close, as he has done so often this season and others.
"It's not a fun situation, that's for sure," Lundqvist said. "I still think we can make it tougher for Anderson, get more traffic . . . Someone needs to step up and score that big goal for us, and that's going to be the difference. This is far from over."