NEW YORK — Ottawa's 3-0 win against the league-leading Rangers on Thursday could be described in a lot of ways, but Senators coach Paul MacLean refused to call it a "statement" game.
"I don't think it was a statement game from us by any means," MacLean said. "We knew who we were playing, and we didn't take them lightly. We knew we were going to have to play hard and let's face it — we didn't dominate this game or control this game from start to finish. Our goalie made some saves and we got some timely scoring.
"By no means is this a statement to say anything other than we were prepared to play the best team in the league."
The Senators improved to 10-1-2 in their last 13 games with a total team effort, getting two goals from Jason Spezza and one from Milan Michalek while the bottom three lines also provided solid minutes. But it was mostly a one-man show from goaltender Craig Anderson, who made 34 saves to pick up his first shutout of the season.
Anderson stood on his head at times during a scoreless first period, making 13 saves in all. His two biggest stops came during the first six minutes, when he denied a Derek Stepan one-timer with his left pad, then sprawled to get the rebound attempt by Marc Staal with the same pad.
In a game that was scoreless for the first 22 minutes and a one-goal contest until there was six minutes left in regulation, those were the saves that stood out most to Anderson.
"That set the tone right off the bat," said Anderson, who has improved his goals-against average to 2.99 and save percentage to .906 during his 7-0-1 stretch. "If they get that one early, I think it's a different hockey game. I just tried to get back in position and stretched out my leg and was fortunate enough to make the save."
Anderson's teammates appreciate that he's on a roll.
"He's just so steady back there right now," Spezza said. "You can tell he has confidence. When your goalie exudes that kind of confidence, your team exudes that kind of confidence. He's done a great job of calming things down when we get scrambling a little bit. There's times of the game when the other team is going to take momentum, and he's done a good job to take it back."
Spezza was on the ice for all three goals, but the second unit of Daniel Alfredsson, Kyle Turris and Erik Condra had five shots, which doesn't include the two posts hit by Turris. The third line of Nick Foligno, Zack Smith and Chris Neil was instrumental in putting a stranglehold on the Rangers' top two lines, which coach John Tortorella chastised during his press conference after the game.
That team effort has been the recipe for success during the Senators' rise in the standings of late, and it was on display in a big way in Madison Square Garden.
"I think we've stuck with it in games," Spezza said. "We've had great goaltending. We've had timely goals from everybody. We've had contributions from the whole group. When you get that, that's when you have the consistency we're having right now. We can throw four lines out there and grind teams down. We try to play similar to how (the Rangers) play."
That style of the Rangers had resulted in five straight victories and 10 wins in 11 games before Thursday. But Tortorella clearly didn't like what he was getting from his top two lines, which led to him shuffling players around in an effort to find a spark.
It didn't work, and the coach had some harsh words afterward.
When asked what element was missing from the game of Artem Anisimov, who hasn't had a point in nine games despite playing on the team's top line with Stepan and Marian Gaborik, he said, "Everything."
Tortorella lauded the work of the third line, which nearly tied the game late in the third period. Brian Boyle had a chance from the slot, but Spezza deflected the shot at the last second. In a flash, Michalek went down the ice and made it 2-0 to ice the game.
"That line did everything that we could possibly ask of them tonight, and Brian is a big part of that," Tortorella said. "Spezza loses his check, and he just puts his stick there and it hits his stick. I thought that line did really well. That's the problem — it cannot be our best line."
Spezza's 17th goal of the season at 8:54 of the second period broke the scoreless tie. He fired a quick wrist shot from the left circle that beat Henrik Lundqvist, who made 21 saves but had his seven-game winning streak snapped.
The Rangers' power play continued to struggle and looked a step slow against the aggressive Senators penalty killers. They had a chance to tie the game early in the third period with Neil in the box for roughing, but never generated a quality chance. They went 0-for-4 and have just three goals in their last 33 chances.
Michalek's 23rd goal of the season made it 2-0 with 6:02 left in the third period, and Spezza added his second of the game and 18th of the season 1:35 later to make it 3-0.
The Senators remained within three points of the Northeast-leading Boston Bruins, but have played five more games than the defending Stanley Cup champions. Ottawa is now 2-0 on what is essentially a nine-game road trip with one game at home to "change our socks," as Spezza called the quick pit stop.
Erik Karlsson, back after missing one game with an upper-body injury, had two assists to add to his League-leading point total among defensemen with 43.
"We played a solid game. It was a tough game to play," Karlsson said. "They're a good team. We stuck to it and came away with two well-deserved points."
The Senators close out a three-game road trip Saturday in Montreal against the Canadiens (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) before returning home briefly to face the Winnipeg Jets on Monday (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).