Shorthanded survival

Ottawa Senators winger Chris Neil (left) celebrates his goal with teammate Bryan Smolinski during...

Ottawa Senators winger Chris Neil (left) celebrates his goal with teammate Bryan Smolinski during the first period against the New York Rangers last night at Scotiabank Place. (Ottawa Sun/Errol McGihon)

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

It remains to be seen what last night's win over the New York Rangers will mean, beyond the obvious two points.

But maybe, sometime in the not too distant future, when the Senators need a positive thought in tough circumstances, they can look back on what happened last night.

The Senators, with five guys out of the lineup who could start for about 28 other teams in the NHL, beat the Jaromir Jagr-led New York Rangers 4-1 at Scotiabank Place.

Ottawa boosted its lead over the Carolina Hurricanes to five points in the race for top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Senators hold a nine-point edge over the Buffalo Sabres in the Northeast Division.

Last night, they did it against Jagr, the league's leading scorer and probable Hart Trophy winner and against a goalie (Henrik Lundqvist) who will be a strong contender for the Vezina Trophy.

They did it without their Big Three on the blue line, Zdeno Chara, Chris Phillips and Wade Redden (called away early in the day for personal reasons).

They are still without goaltender Dominik Hasek and forwards Mike Fisher and Martin Havlat.

They did it dressing eight players who were not in the NHL in the season before the lockout.

Senators coach Bryan Murray challenged his young offensive stars Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley to go head-to-head with Jagr, which is kind of like asking Jude Law to chaperone your daughter.

But they did it.

They limited him to one assist on five shots.

"(Murray) challenged us and we took it personally," said Spezza, who had an assist on Heatley's 43rd goal of the season. "He showed some confidence putting us head-to-head with (Jagr's line)."

"I think we did pretty good," said Heatley, who scored from the point on the power play for the second-straight game.

"I think they were a bit of a tired team and we took advantage of them. (Murray) did make a point of asking us to be more responsible and I think we did tonight. We get into trouble when we try to make things out of nothing."

It was a remarkable win for the Senators against a worthy opponent. There was some strong goaltending from rookie Ray Emery, who tied former Philadelphia Flyer Bernie Parent for most wins in a month (12).

Rookie defenceman Andrej Meszaros, who had close to another 30-minute night, and Brian Pothier shouldered most of the load with the Big Three out of the lineup. They did a good job on Jagr, with some help from their friends, of course.

"The injured guys are going to have to earn a spot when they come back," said Murray, tongue in cheek. "To me, that was a terrific hockey game. It was a workmanlike effort. We asked a couple of guys to step up and they did it.

"A lot of people did a real fine job. That's what hockey is. If you work hard and play responsibly, you'll have a chance every night."

Senators forward Tyler Arnason played his best game since coming over at the trade deadline. Murray also singled out for praise enforcer Brian McGrattan, for meeting the challenge from New York enforcer Colton Orr, and wingers Vaclav Varada (for his physical play) and Antoine Vermette for his penalty killing and versatility up front.

The power play came through gloriously for the Senators, capitalizing on a pair of 5-on-3 advantages in the first period on goals by Chris Neil and Patrick Eaves for a 2-0 lead.

That's what the Senators needed in that situation, nothing fancy on defence, just hard work and awareness when Jagr is on the ice, and their power play to take advantage.

The Rangers closed the gap to 2-1 less than a minute after Eaves had poked home a rebound when Fedor Tyutin, the Rangers strong rookie defenceman, directed a seeing-eye backhander through a crowd off a pass by Jagr.

The two talented teams then settled into a physical game highlighted by a scrap between McGrattan and Orr. Along the way there were some big hits including one by Varada, who came off the bench and caught Ranger Blair Betts at centre ice.

The Senators' power play came through again early in the second to restore the two-goal lead on Heatley's one-timer from the right point, a pretty fair imitation of the goal he scored Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

The Senators hope to have at least Fisher back for tomorrow night's meeting with the Washington Capitals at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., CBC).


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