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Rangers get on the board with dominant Game 3 win over Senators

New York Rangers’ Michael Grabner celebrates after scoring a goal during the first period of Game 3. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

Don’t think about last year – when the team missed the playoffs – and don’t think there’s any luck to carry over from Saturday’s 6-5 double-overtime win by the Senators over the New York Rangers, courtesy of “checker” Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s stunning four-goal performance.

“It’s not about yesterday,” Boucher said heading into Tuesday’s Game 3 at Madison Square Garden. “It’s about today.”

And now, unfortunately for the Ottawa Senators, it is all about tomorrow, following New York’s dominating 4-1 victory Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. With the best-of-seven playoff series now at two games to one, still in favour of the Senators, Game 4 will be held Thursday in New York, with Game 5 scheduled for Saturday afternoon back in Ottawa.

It might have been only the third game in the series, but New York forward Mika Zibanejad, a former Senator, accurately predicted that his teammates would play it “like a Game 7.” They could not risk being down 3-0 to a team the Rangers were heavily favoured to defeat in the Eastern Conference semi-final.

As they said they would, the Rangers came out ferociously, charging up the ice and through Ottawa’s vaunted neutral-zone trap as if they were popping soap bubbles. There was even a 10-minute stretch in the opening period in which Ottawa could not muster a single shot on the New York net.

Boucher had said earlier in the day that this would be “the toughest game we will have all year long.” That was a given.

New York coach Alain Vigneault, criticized in New York for not dressing his more physical players, accommodated the complainers by inserting hard-nosed Tanner Glass back into the lineup. Glass quickly made his presence known, hitting Ottawa forward Zack Smith hard enough to put Smith out of the game with an “upper body injury.”

“There’s no surprise to his game,” Vigneault said of Glass.

It was Zibanejad, traded last year by Ottawa for then-Ranger Derick Brassard, who began the scoring onslaught, flying up the ice and around the Ottawa net before slipping the puck to Mats Zuccarello. The Norwegian forward beat Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson to the blocker side at the 5:31 mark for New York’s first goal.

Anderson, a fine goaltender who lately has developed a reputation for being in more trouble when pucks are behind the net than when they are in front, later misplayed a puck behind his net, allowing New York’s Michael Grabner to reach around and slip the puck into the open net for the Rangers’ second goal.

Anderson got some measure of revenge on Grabner in the following period when he made an improbable left-pad save on what looked like a perfect redirect by Grabner.

The newly physical Rangers had clearly targeted Senators captain Erik Karlsson, hitting him at every opportunity. But it was Karlsson’s own teammate, Mark Stone, who took him out most effectively when the two accidentally collided during a New York rush. Derek Stepan and Rick Nash came down on a two-on-one rush, Stepan passed to Nash and Nash fired a hard shot behind Anderson for a 3-0 lead.

Karlsson had revealed last week that he had been recovering from two hairline fractures in his left foot and it seemed the Rangers were deliberately trying to wear down the Norris Trophy nominee, who often plays in excess of 30 minutes a game.

This game, he was a rare minus-three for the night.

Boucher has even stopped having Karlsson work out with the team, choosing rest instead. “He doesn’t need to practise,” said Boucher. “I don’t think I’ve ever said that before.”

The Rangers took it to 4-0 when J.T. Miller slipped a perfect cross-crease pass to Oscar Lindbergh, who had simply to clip the puck into the open side of the Ottawa net.

It seemed as if the rout was on. With slightly more than a minute to go in the second period, however, slick Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan skated back of the New York net and put a behind-the-back pass out to Pageau, who easily scored on a badly fooled Henrik Lundqvist.

Ryan, unfortunately, left the game early in the third period after blocking a hard shot, and did not return.

The Senators might have come back three different times from a two-goal deficit in Saturday’s wacko match, but they were not going to come back from being three down. Not the way Lundqvist was playing.

The Senators pushed hard in the final period, with Brassard, Karlsson, Mike Hoffman and Clarke MacArthur all having excellent chances, but Lundqvist was up to every challenge.

It was more than half a century ago that Jack Adams of the Detroit Red Wings pointed out: “What pitching is in a short series in baseball, goaltending is in the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

Perhaps even more so, considering the way the game of hockey has changed.

Solving Lundqvist now becomes the top priority for Boucher and his Senators.

That’s for tomorrow.

As for yesterday, best not to look back.