The top-seeded New York Rangers will try to avoid an upset in the opening round of the playoffs tonight, as they host the Ottawa Senators for a decisive Game 7 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers are the top seed in the East for the first time since they won their last Stanley Cup title in 1994, but New York was forced to stave off elimination in Game 6. The Blueshirts posted a 3-2 victory in Monday's game in Ottawa to even this best-of-seven series at three wins apiece.
With a win tonight, the Senators can become the 11th No. 8 seed to upset a No. 1 since the current playoff format began in 1994. The Los Angeles Kings became the 10th team to pull off that upset on Sunday when they eliminated the top- seeded Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference quarterfinals. The top seeds from both conferences have never been knocked out in the opening round of the same playoffs since '94.
Tonight's tilt marks the first Game 7 at Madison Square Garden since the Rangers beat Vancouver, 3-2, to win the Cup in '94. New York is 3-5 all-time in Game 7s, but is 3-0 in seventh games at MSG.
Ottawa is 0-4 all-time in Game 7s, but they have posted a 4-1 record at MSG this season, including a 2-1 mark in this series.
Derek Stepan recorded a goal and two assists to help the Rangers stay alive with the close road win in Game 6. Brad Richards also added a goal and an assist for New York.
Henrik Lundqvist made 25 saves for the Rangers on Monday, while Craig Anderson stopped 19 shots for Ottawa.
"I didn't really think that we played particularly well or worked particularly hard," said Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean.
Game 6 did not come without its share of controversy, as the Senators were awarded a goal that appeared to be kicked in by an Ottawa player with 38.4 seconds left in the third period. Although replays showed that Chris Neil may have altered the puck's path with a kicking motion, the tally was credited to Jason Spezza and it cut the deficit to 3-2.
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson was back in the lineup Monday after he missed the past three games of the series with a concussion. Alfredsson was injured in Game 2 courtesy of an elbow from New York's Carl Hagelin. The rookie forward also returned after serving a three-game suspension for the hit.
Alfredsson has no points in four career Game 7s. Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko leads all players in this game with three goals and four points over four Game 7 appearances.
The Rangers played Monday's game without forward Brian Boyle, who suffered a concussion after absorbing a high hit from Neil in Game 5. Boyle, who has three goals in this series, is questionable for tonight.
New York is facing the prospect of a first-round exit for its third consecutive postseason. The Rangers haven't won a playoff series since beating the New Jersey Devils in the 2008 conference quarterfinals. Ottawa hasn't won a playoff series since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007.