NEW YORK — After one game back in the day, then-Sabres coach John Muckler was still fuming because Senators tough guy Dennis Vial had fired the puck in his direction on the bench.
"That was like a scene from Slap Shot," snorted an insulted Muckler.
Told of this, Vial didn't miss a beat.
"I thought Slap Shot was a pretty good movie," he said, grinning.
And who didn't like the way Senators coach Paul MacLean borrowed from the classic flick by starting his five toughest players -- Chris Neil, Zenon Konopka, Zack Smith, Matt Carkner and Jared Cowen -- for Game 2 at Madison Square Garden Saturday night. It was a direct statement by MacLean, who was obviously none too pleased with the way his players (particularly star defenceman Erik Karlsson) were pushed around by big Brian Boyle and the Rangers in Game 1.
Meanwhile, naturally unhappy with being a healthy scratch so many times, Carkner has been looking to bite someone's head off for a while now. And in his first road playoff game since he scored the triple-OT winner in Pittsburgh two springs ago, he couldn't wait to get his hands on Boyle.
On his second shift, Carkner pounded Boyle and, along with getting a roughing minor and fighting major, he was given a misconduct and game misconduct for ... mugging?
Whatever, it was some effective message-sending by the Senators, who would go on to show plenty of fight in coming from behind to send the game into overtime. Fittingly, it was their all-time tough guy, Neil, who scored the winner 77 seconds into the extra session.
And suddenly, we have ourselves a series.
Whether they wind up winning it or not, the Senators are in the infant stages of what is expected to be the good/great team they are going to be. And what MacLean did Saturday was help them with a much-needed identity.
It was back in the beginning when the Senators anthem was Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down.
Impressively, they appear to be adopting that motto again going forward.
STARTS AND STOPS
"If Nick (Foligno) gets a goal," an NHL exec said the other day, "it's going to be a pretty one." Foligno, who does tend to dip and dazzle a lot, nearly lived up to that claim when he undressed a Ranger before being stoned by Henrik Lundqvist. But his equalizer with just under five minutes to go wasn't at all like that. He drove to the net, as he should, to bang in a loose puck. More of that from Foligno would be good for the Senators ... Deemed the fastest guy at the all-star game in Ottawa, Rangers winger Carl Hagelin is gonna have to move pretty quickly to escape Brendan Shanahan's long arm of the law. Hagelin needs to be suspended at least two games for his elbow that to the head that knocked out Daniel Alfredsson ... For the big saves he made — especially in a first-period staredown with Ryan Callahan — Craig Anderson failed the Senators by giving up one he shouldn't have to Anton Stralman ... Hours before the game, Zack Smith "guaranteed" more intensity from Saturday night. True to his word, this one looked a lot more like Penguins-Flyers and Kings-Canucks than Game 1 at MSG. Suddenly, Senators-Rangers is becoming a bitter rivalry. Gotta love it ... Pretty sure MacLean mumbled "no changes at this time" when asked after the morning skate, with "at this time" being the key part of the response. Before him, John Tortorella was at a little man of few words. After a reporter's half-minute-long question about momentum swings, the Rangers boss replied: "Alse I know is we're going to have to be better." Over the course of the entire interview the with media, Tortorella uttered 30 (I counted) words. A little later, Mike Rupp was asked about any chirping that went on between the teams in Game 1. "There's not too much talk at this time of year that really means too much," said the Rangers winger ... Interestingly, Smith also (sort of) said that a longer game would benefit him. "The league told us they're cracking down on the after whistle stuff," explained Smith. "That's usually the kind of stuff that gets guys into the game, gets it more chippy. What happens after the whistle. Few words exchanged. For a guy like me, that's how I get into it sometimes. Get pissed off at someone gets you going a little more." There was pushing and shoving after over half the whistles Saturday.
STUFF I THINK I THUNK
Karlsson played like a Norris Trophy winner in Game 2 ... Tortorella was asked earlier this season about a comment made by the Senators' No. 28. "I don't care what Zeeenon Konopka, or whatever his name is, said," sniffed Torts. Wonder if he heard it correctly when Konopka's name was announced after he set up the tying goal? ... The new pressbox setup at MSG is great, except for the fact that standing directly above us back row guys are fans screaming and waving their arms, beer in hand and all. I can see needing a new laptop shortly ... Rugged Rangers defenceman Stu Bickel gave Carkner his only fight when the Senators' tough guy was on conditioning stint in Bingo this season. "It was a long time ago," Bickel recalled Saturday morning. "If I remember correctly, I finished a hit on one of their guys and he took exception. He's a tough guy." ... You've got to like Bickel if for no other reason than his honesty. Asked if he watched the great Philly-Pittsburgh game Friday night, he confessed that he watched a movie instead. When Cheapseats asked him which move "she" made him watch, Bickel laughed. "No, no I was just by myself, in the hotel," he said. "I watched In Time. It was good." Yeah, it isn't really, but I'm not about to argue with the guy ... Another reason to love the fans here. When Karlsson banked his shot in off Michael Del Zotto's foot, one of the thought the goal should be disallowed. "Kicking motion," he blurted.
The scrutiny of everybody is magnified in the playoffs. Until Saturday morning, I hadn't noticed that Erik Condra wears a cut down skate lace around his left wrist. He says he put it on at the start of the season and never takes it off. "I had one last year too. I cut it off after the season," said Condra, who won a Calder Cup championship with Binghamton in '10-11. "I threw it away. In Houston." You weren't attached to it? "No, I was ready to get rid of it," he said. "It was a pretty good year last year, so I figured I should try it again." What if Ottawa wins the Cup this season? "I might keep this one," said Condra. "But you never know, that night I could cut it off and throw it away again."
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM..:
Jesse Winchester and most of the fans at our end of the ice saw that someone had thrown a second puck on the ice during play in the second period well before any of the four officials on the ice ... A big problem with the Senators' back end production — too many of Karlsson's shots are getting blocked and too many of Sergei Gonchar's are going wide ... Also, too often Gonchar wins the race to the puck then allows the Ranger he was racing to leave the end boards with it ... The "these refs suck" chants from Ranger fans have been heard during every playoff game for years, says one New Yorker ... Best chant from the crowd this week is from Game 1 when an attractive young woman in a Rangers jersey was spotted with a guy in a Senators sweater. "Dump your boyfriend," the crowd crowed.
AND FINALLY ...:
I liked Milan Michalek as a person and a player before I realized his agent is a guy who will resort to bullying tactics that would get him in all sorts of trouble at school or in most workplaces these days. And I still like Michalek now, even though his agent told the Twitter world I'm a "parasite." Apparently, he's upset that I pointed out, in a playful way (asking a stinky guy in a Statue of Liberty costume if he has seen Michalek this week is not playful?) meant to make people chuckle that the Senators' top goal scorer was more or less invisible in Game 1. Which he was. Anyway, I'm a lot of things, but really, I'm not "an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment," or "a person who receives support, advantage, or the like, from another or others without giving any useful or proper return, as one who lives on the hospitality of others" or "(in ancient Greece) a person who received free meals in return for amusing or impudent conversation, flattering remarks, etc." At least I don't think so, and neither would my mother.