OTTAWA — Erik Karlsson scored the go-ahead goal late in regulation as the Ottawa Senators snatched Game 1 from the New York Rangers 2-1 on Thursday night.
The Senators captain beat fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist on an innocent shot from just above the goal-line — one that pinged off Rangers centre Derek Stepan and into the back of the net.
“Just wanted to get the puck in there and hope for a good bounce and got a great bounce,” said Karlsson. “Those are always nice to get. And I think that the amount of pucks that we put at the net we deserved one of those.”
It was Karlsson’s first goal and seventh point of the playoffs. The 26-year-old, who’s been playing with a foot injury, also logged more than 28 minutes in the win, which put Ottawa ahead 1-0 in the best-of-seven second-round series.
Lundqvist had been superb to that point for New York and finished with 41 saves.
Craig Anderson stopped 33 shots, beaten only by Ryan McDonagh. Ryan Dzingel also scored for Ottawa, with Game 2 lying ahead on Saturday evening.
“I think the players didn’t want to get swept in four,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher. ”We heard from everybody how good they are. It’s all you could hear is how much they’re going to crush us.”
The Sens, playing in front of crowd that wasn’t near full, had plenty of opportunities to take the early lead. Ottawa drew three power plays in the opening 20 minutes, but failed to score on any of them.
Lundqvist was key to stopping those efforts.
The 35-year-old continued his brilliant play from the first round in stopping all nine shots the Senators mustered with the man advantage and 21 in all. He made maybe his finest two stops on Mark Stone during a flurry around the Rangers net on the first Ottawa power play and then made another blocker stop late on the 24-year-old.
Lundqvist had the worst regular season of his Hall of Fame-bound career (.910 save percentage), but was superb in stopping 195-of-206 shots (.947) during a six-game first-round win over Montreal.
Anderson wasn’t tested near as much at the other end, but was forced to hang tough when McDonagh walked past a row of Senators during a New York power play and made an attempt on goal that ultimately went wide.
The Rangers captain didn’t miss on another power play in the second, his point shot sailing past Anderson for the 1-0 lead with pesky winger Chris Kreider camped out in front. New York went 1-15 with the man advantage in the first round.
Slumping through the first half of the middle period, the Sens grabbed momentum by punishing the Rangers with a series of heavy shifts down low in the offensive zone. The speedy Viktor Stalberg nearly scored when he slipped behind the New York defence at one point, but he was denied, just as Michael Grabner was at the other a few moments earlier.
Ottawa finally broke through with another power play — on the second of two minor penalties for American rookie Brady Skjei.
Lundqvist looked as if he’d continue stonewalling their efforts when he brushed a Kyle Turris shot aside from the left face-off circle, but the rebound came right to Dzingel and he didn’t miss on the Sens’ 33rd shot.
The Senators controlled almost 57 per cent of even-strength shot attempts after 40 minutes.
It was more Lundqvist in the third. First was a stop of Clarke MacArthur on a redirection from the slot and then another showstopper on Dzingel, who’d gotten behind the New York defence. Lundqvist snatched his shot with the glove as the Canadian Tire Centre crowd murmured in frustration.
It wasn’t until less than five minutes remained in regulation that Karlsson finally beat his Swedish counterpart with the go-ahead marker. His shot came from a spot in the right corner.
Earlier in the day Karlsson called the Rangers the favourites in Ottawa’s first second-round series in four years.
“But we’re going to take care of our stuff and we’re going to do the things that we think we need to do well to have a chance to win this series,” said Karlsson. ”If we do all those things right we’re definitely going to have a chance.”