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SENATORS (41-31-10) at RANGERS (51-24-7)
TV: NHLN-US, CBC, RDS, MSG (HD)
Last 10: Ottawa 4-6-0; New York 6-4-0
Season Series: In four regular-season meetings, the Senators went 3-1-0 against the Eastern Conference champions, including victories in both games at Madison Square Garden.
Big Story: Despite the Senators' dominance in the regular season, they're still the heavy underdog against the Rangers. Will Ottawa be able to sustain its strong play over the course of a lengthy series against the physical Blueshirts? Can Craig Anderson outplay likely Vezina Trophy finalist Henrik Lundqvist? Will the Senators' power play get the best of the Rangers' solid penalty kill? It may be a 1 vs. 8 series, but the teams are more evenly matched than their seeds indicate.
Senators: Ottawa lost three straight games to finish the season when one point would've allowed them to finish seventh in the East. The Senators scored just four goals in that stretch.
That hasn't done anything to dampen the enthusiasm of the Senators, who weren't given much of a chance to make the playoffs in October. Now that it's April, the Senators are once again being dismissed pretty easily, but perhaps that's when they are at their best.
"We're obviously excited to get back in the playoffs, as you can tell," centre Jason Spezza said. "We're just looking forward to getting started. [As for losing the last three games of the regular season], playoffs wipe everything clean. Now it's just looking forward to the first game and getting the momentum."
The Senators possess the game's top offensive defenceman in Erik Karlsson, who finished with 78 points in 81 games and will present a challenge to the Rangers.
"He's a big part of their offence, obviously, and it'll be a big focus for us to try to limit his time and space," Rangers centre Brad Richards said. "Hopefully, we can keep him away from puck as much as we can. He's kind of a rover, he'll jump up in the play, and he's such a great skater he gets back just as quick, so he can take more chances than other D-men can.
"You have to keep your head on a swivel when he has the puck, try to get it out of his hands as quick as we can so he can't be a big part of the offence … start in their end and keep an eye on him down there, don't let him beat you and create those odd-man rushes."
Rangers: While the Senators limped to the finish line of the regular season, the Rangers didn't exactly end the season on a strong note. They lost three of four, including the season finale at home when a win would've meant the Presidents' Trophy.
After four days of rest and practice, coach John Tortorella believes his team is in the right frame of mind heading into Game 1. He wouldn't go into detail, but he said his team is ready.
"I've seen it the past few days," Tortorella said, "but I'm not expanding upon it."
The Rangers got into trouble against the Senators mostly through turnovers and penalties. In Ottawa's three wins, the power play went a combined 2-for-8. In the Rangers' lone win, the Senators were held scoreless with the extra man in two chances.
"They have a very good power play," Tortorella said. "We need to stay within ourselves as far as just going about our business, not getting involved in any antics and keeping our discipline. Discipline is a huge part of the game in the regular season — it's twofold come playoffs. We've had many conversations about how we have to handle ourselves."
Who's Hot: Spezza had six goals and seven assists in his last 15 games … Linemates Richards and Marian Gaborik closed strong. In March/April, Richards had seven goals and 17 assists; Gaborik had 13 goals and 11 assists.
Injury Report: Senators winger Chris Neil (upper body) has been practising and is looking good to play in Game 1 … The Rangers have no new injuries, but defencemen Michael Sauer (concussion) and Steve Eminger (ankle) have been out long-term.
Stat Pack: The Rangers finished with the 23rd-best power play this season at a lowly 15.7 per cent. But they appeared to figure things out at the end of the season, going 8-for-27 (29.6 per cent) over their final six games … The Senators' power play was ranked 11th (18.2 per cent) but stumbled over the final month. They went 6-for-52 (11.5 per cent) over their final 17 games.
Puck Drop: "In the playoffs, it's even more of a factor, being able to recognize what's going on and making adjustments. It's a big priority if you can recognize it soon enough and it's how you handle momentum. And when the momentum is swinging, what your team does to maintain it or get momentum back on your side ... Those are decisions that the coaches make that are vital." — Senators coach Paul MacLean, who's preparing for his first Stanley Cup playoff game as a head coach
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