Neil’s OT goal lifts Senators over Rangers in Game 2

NEW YORK — The Ottawa Senators made it clear early and late with their fists and sticks that they aren’t going to be pushed around by the top-seeded New York Rangers.

Matt Carkner got back into the Ottawa lineup, and made his presence felt right away by settling his club’s score in a one-sided fight with Rangers forward Brian Boyle. Chris Neil, known for his punches, delivered the final blow by scoring 1:17 into overtime to give the Senators a 3-2 victory in Game 2 on Saturday night.

The series heads to Ottawa tied 1-1, and is assured of returning to New York for Game 5.

“It’s an exciting time to get a goal, for sure,” said Neil, who had 13 goals and 178 penalty minutes during the regular season. “It doesn’t matter to us. Numbers, statistics, that’s not for us. We’re a team, this is a team game, and it’s all about getting a win at this time of year.”

Neil got to a loose puck in front off a rebound and backhanded the puck past goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

“We stressed getting pucks to the net, and getting traffic there, as well. That’s the kind of goals that you win with,” Neil said. “They are greasy goals, and we’ll take it. It’s big momentum for us and we’ve just got to keep on building on it.”

The Rangers seemed poised to grab a 2-0 series lead when Brian Boyle scored in the third period, but Nick Foligno tied it with 4:37 left in regulation.

Erik Karlsson also scored for the Senators, who exacted some revenge on Boyle for some shots he took at Karlsson during Game 1. A brawl led to the ejections of Carkner and New York forward Brandon Dubinsky just 2:15 in.

Anton Stralman had the other goal for the Rangers.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is Monday night in Ottawa, followed by Game 4 on Wednesday night.

“We were 4 minutes away from winning the hockey game, and I still don’t think we played that poorly,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “But I do think we need to continue to attack.”

Foligno forged a 2-2 tie when he got to a loose puck off a shot by Zenon Konopka that got past Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and slammed it up and over the sprawling Lundqvist from the edge of the crease.

Boyle was in line to be the star of the game when he fired in a shot from the slot, as he was being knocked sideways by a hit from Jesse Winchester. That gave the Rangers their second lead, 2-1 at 2:41 of the third.

Boyle was already the prime focus on a night in which he was targeted early and often by the Senators. He was jumped by Carkner along the side boards and absorbed numerous punches while he was up on his skates and after he fell to the ice and tried to cover up.

Dubinsky also was kicked out for being the third man in when he came to Boyle’s defense.

“It’s going to get elevated every night,” Boyle said about the intensity. “We have to keep trying to raise our game, raise our level of intensity throughout. I am sure they are going to do the same.”

Craig Anderson made 27 saves, all in regulation, to earn the win for the eighth-seeded Senators. Lundqvist stopped 29 shots.

The Rangers’ much-maligned power play finally came through after falling during the 5-minute advantage New York received for Carkner’s fighting penalty.

With defenseman Sergei Gonchar off for tripping, Stralman took a cross-zone pass from defense partner Dan Girardi and fired a shot from the top edge of the right circle that pinballed off Anderson and squeezed between his pads at 10:16.

That lead held up for the rest of the first period and deep into the second when Ottawa’s more potent power play cashed in on a 5-minute advantage of its own.

Usually mild-mannered rookie speedster Carl Hagelin landed a hard hit on Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson along the side boards in the Ottawa end. Hagelin got his elbow up and struck Alfredsson in the head, earning a major penalty.

Alfredsson didn’t return to the game.

“It’s the kind of hit that needs to be looked at, and the league will do that, I’m sure,” Karlsson said. “They’ll get it right. He’s one of our best players.”

Tortorella said he didn’t think Hagelin would be suspended, but added if a ban is handed down then Ottawa’s Chris Phillips should also get one for elbowing Rangers captain Ryan Callahan in the final minute of the first period.

Just over 3 minutes into Hagelin’s penalty, Karlsson flung the puck in front from below the goal line, deep in the right corner of the Rangers’ end. As New York defenseman Michael Del Zotto skated in to help protect the crease, he stuck out his left skate and deflected the puck past Lundqvist to tie it at 1 with 6:10 left in the second.

The intensity was thick on the ice, and could be felt throughout the arena. And it all stemmed from the game’s opening minutes.

“Our team responded all night long,” Senators coach Paul MacLean said. “We handled the momentum changes way better than we did in Game 1. We learned a lot from Game 1 and we will now learn a lot from Game 2.

“This is what playoff hockey is all about. It’s about responding. And we’re looking forward to doing that again, but we know that it will be hard.”

There were still a few stray balloons in the crowd, left over from the national anthem, when the fireworks started on the ice.

Anticipation of potential quick rough stuff could be felt in Madison Square Garden when the teams lined up for the opening faceoff. But despite the presence of Carkner and Konopka — both scratched in Game 1 — and Mike Rupp, Brandon Prust, and Stu Bickel in the Rangers’ starting five, play began calmly.

That all changed when Carkner went after Boyle along the side boards in the New York end and began unloading unprovoked punches.

As players from both teams gathered along the wall and exchanged shoves and words, Dubinsky charged in to help Boyle. When things settled down, Carkner and Dubinsky were ushered to the penalty boxes.

While referees sorted out the penalties, Dubinsky became incensed in the box — apparently aware that he had been ejected. When the official announcement was made, Dubinsky stormed toward the tunnel and threw down a full water cooler.

Carkner was given a major penalty for fighting, but the Rangers failed to take advantage of the 5-minute power play. He also received a minor penalty for roughing, that was canceled out by one given to Dubinsky.

Boyle became a target after he landed a few punches to the head of Karlsson, Ottawa’s 21-year-old star defenseman, after the whistle early on in New York’s 4-2 win in Game 1 on Thursday night.

Later in the first period of Game 2, Boyle fought Neil.

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