OTTAWA â€” The Senators were sinking when Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher threw out the meat-and-potatoes trio of Tommy Wingels, Zack Smith and Ryan Dzingel.
The unit delivered a jolt that helped Ottawa regain momentum in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal Thursday and cancel a 1-0 Rangers lead. The Senators eventually beat New York 2-1 on a late goal from Erik Karlsson.
Boucher said his team “really needed to play harder and I think they gave us the momentum and they gave us that hard play that we need to have deep in their zone.”
“I think from that moment on until the end of the game it really inspired the other lines that I put together and I think every line after that had the same type of mentality,” he added. “They definitely were the guys who gave us the first hard push in the second period that we needed.”
Outside of Henrik Lundqvist and his re-emergence this spring, the Rangers are best known these days for sporting a deep four-line attack. It was such a concern before the series that Boucher said his team would be doomed if it couldn’t roll four capable lines.
“If we’re stuck going down to three lines we won’t be able to have a chance,” Boucher said Thursday morning.
His team was controlling Game 1 until Ryan McDonagh gave New York the lead seven minutes into the second on a power play. The goal sapped Ottawa’s energy and the electricity of the crowd at Canadian Tire Centre (less than 17,000) and it was then that Wingels, Smith and Dzingel got to work down low in the New York zone.
Their pounding caused a shift in momentum and drew a penalty when Dzingel was held by rookie Rangers defender Brady Skjei. It was Dzingel, the former seventh round pick of the Sens, who ended up evening the score with the man advantage.
Ottawa outshot New York 10-2 for the final eight minutes of the second following that momentous shift from a trio of grinders.
Wingels ended up leading Ottawa with a 71-per-cent puck possession mark in Game 1, followed by Dzingel at 65 per cent. Five-on-five shot attempts were 12-8 (60 per cent) when Smith was on the ice.
“Wingels and Smitty have been doing that the whole playoffs,” said Dzingel, who scored 14 goals and 32 points during the regular season. “They’ve been working down low and creating a little spark for us. I think it was those guys for those two shifts that were creating a lot down low, working hard to get pucks to the net and then using their bodies.
“I think those two guys created a lot of energy for us and at that point in the game we really needed it so that helped out a lot.”
Dzingel is selling himself short, given that he drew the power play and scored the goal that tied the game.
The 25-year-old’s emergence this season is really the silver lining of Clarke MacArthur’s year-long battle with concussions. Boucher noted before the series that MacArthur’s absence â€” he returned late in the regular season â€” allowed the club to get a good, long look at Dzingel, the 204th overall pick of the 2011 draft.
Boucher likes to shuffle around his line combinations, but he structured his initial lineup so that threats were at least present with each of the four groups. One unit had Kyle Turris, another Bobby Ryan and Derick Brassard, a third with Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman and the fourth with MacArthur, who scored the series-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 against the Bruins.
The Sens need their lesser likes to continue performing effectively, with the Rangers boasting four lines with equal parts speed, size and skill. That won’t mean simply scoring, but winning shifts with puck control in the offensive zone as the Dzingel group did in Game 1.
Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion tried to improve the forward depth ahead of the trade deadline by adding Alex Burrows from Vancouver as well as Wingels from San Jose, and Viktor Stalberg from Carolina.
Boucher thought the improvements helped the Sens outlast the Bruins in the opening round, giving the group extra “juice”. He was so pleased with what he saw in the opener against New York that Tom Pyatt â€” a favourite of the coach â€” was likely to remain out for Game 2 even though he’s ready to return from injury.
“I don’t see the urgency to mess with that,” Boucher said of his lineup.
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version stated it was Game 1 of the East final, instead of semifinal