OTTAWA — Erik Karlsson was hoping for a good bounce and got a great one.
Karlsson's shot from an almost impossible angle beat Henrik Lundqvist with less than five minutes to go in regulation and snatched Game 1 for the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.
The 26-year-old's first attempt was blocked by Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, but the second — the shot leaving his tape from below the goal-line — somehow found its way past the Swedish netminder, who'd been nearly unbeatable to that point.
It was the last of 43 shots at Lundqvist and the first goal of the playoffs for the Ottawa captain.
"We know that if we want to score goals we're going to need lots and lots and lots of shots on Lundqvist," Senators coach Guy Boucher said after the 2-1 win, noting the 35-year-old's recent brilliance.
"Anything below 40 shots, really, we're not going to score anything. We know that."
Lundqvist was spectacular in keeping it close all evening long for the Rangers, but Karlsson was the story yet again.
He played almost 29 minutes in the series-opening win and notched that fateful game-winner — his first in an NHL post-season. This follows a superb first round against the Boston Bruins in which he rung up six assists in more than 30 minutes per-game while playing with two hairline fractures in his left foot.
Prior to that, Karlsson put together a 71-point regular season which might just earn him a third Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman.
Boucher was almost lost for more words to describe a player who he believes is also deserving of Hart Trophy consideration as league MVP this season.
"It's been so consistent that I guess I got used to it," Boucher said. "I don't know if that's good or bad, but I don't think you should ever get used to that. I think our fans have to appreciate what we have here. It's more than a star right now. That's what I think is unbelievable. He's a skilled player that became a star and now he's a winner."
The Sens looked like they'd be lucky to beat Lundqvist even once the way things were going early. Ottawa had three power plays in the first, but couldn't score on any of them thanks in large part to the Rangers netminder.
Lundqvist stopped all nine of the Senators shots with the man advantage and 21 total in the first period. Stunning, in particular, were a pair of denials on Mark Stone around the crease.
After the Rangers grabbed the lead on a power-play goal from McDonagh, the Sens finally broke through on their 33rd shot. Lundqvist made the first stop on Kyle Turris during another Ottawa power play, but couldn't get over in time to deny Ryan Dzingel on the second look.
These playoffs have been a blast from the past for Lundqvist, who had a career-worst .910 save percentage during the regular season. Lundqvist was excellent in stopping 195-of-206 shots (.947) during a six-game first-round win over Montreal and was locked in yet again in the opener against Ottawa.
Karlsson thought his club could do more to crowd his fellow Swede and block his sightlines.
He appears to have found a comfortable new scoring spot that Lundqvist and goalies around the league will have to pay mind to. Karlsson scored twice late in the regular season from a similar spot around the goal-line and it looked like this shot in particular struck Rangers centre Derek Stepan before hitting Lundqvist and going in.
"Those are always nice to get," Karlsson said. "And I think that the amount of pucks that we put at the net we were well-deserved at one of those."
"There's three guys in line with that puck and I pick it up, but it just hit me in the head and it's in," Lundqvist said.
Earlier in the day, Karlsson described the Senators as underdogs against a Rangers squad which had four more points — and seven more regulation or overtime wins — during the regular season.
Boucher was pushing that message after the game, which also saw Craig Anderson make 34 saves.
"I think the players didn't want to get swept in four," said Boucher. "We heard from everybody how good they are. It's all you could hear is how much they're going to crush us. It is a scary team — they've got four lines and their goaltender is outstanding. So maybe there's a lot of fear tonight that helped us and the guys were able to do it."
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press