OTTAWA — The Senators once again tried to goad the Rangers into a physical game, this time by changing their lineup. And once again, the Rangers didn’t bite.
Ottawa coach Guy Boucher decided to bring in long-time agitator Chris Neil to make his debut this postseason, and despite him hardly contributing with just five agitating shifts and one bad penalty, the Senators were able to win, 5-4 in overtime, taking Game 5 of the second-round series on Saturday afternoon at Canadian Tire Centre.
It gave the Senators a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven contest, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination going into a must-win Game 6 at the Garden on Tuesday night.
“I really want our group to focus on playing a smart game, playing a hard game, playing whistle-to-whistle,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault had said Saturday morning when asked about the possibility of playing against an agitator like Neil. “Whoever is in the lineup is in the lineup.”
Neil had played one game in the past two months, Ottawa’s regular-season finale on April 9 against the Islanders. His most recent game before that was Feb. 26, but Senators coach Guy Boucher didn’t see that as a problem.
“I’m not concerned,” Boucher had said before he made Ryan Dzingel a healthy scratch and played Neil sporadically on a line with Zach Smith and Tom Pyatt.
Neil first tried to start a fight with the Rangers’ resident tough guy, Tanner Glass, early in the first period — but Glass just skated away to his bench, laughing. Early in the second, Glass hit Dion Phaneuf behind the Ottawa net and was going to get called for interference, and Neil decided to take exception, jumping Glass from behind. It nullified the Senators’ coming power play, and earned Neil a roughing minor and a 10-minute misconduct, despite appearing to warrant an instigator penalty.
It was Neil’s final shift of the game, totaling just 2:26 of ice time.
It wasn’t quite as drastic as some previous games, but…