NEW YORK -- Conceding a late goal in Game 1. Giving up two late goals in Game 2 and another in overtime. The New York Rangers would be hard-pressed to find more crushing ways to drop the first two games of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Ottawa Senators.
Facing the possibility of being pushed to the brink, the Rangers responded in Game 3.
Mats Zuccarello and Michael Grabner scored first-period goals as the Rangers dominated Ottawa 4-1 on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden to cut the Senators' lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.
During the two days between games, Senators coach Guy Boucher warned that it would be difficult to manufacture the desperation the Rangers were sure to offer while facing a 2-0 series deficit.
He was right.
"We played a solid first period and we came out strong. I think that we set the tone right away," said Zuccarello, who assisted on Grabner's goal. "I don't think we played our best in the second and the third. We have to improve on that, but we had a really good first period. We came out strong and that was good to see."
The second period may not have been great in Zuccarello's estimation, but goals from Rick Nash and Oscar Lindberg helped extend the lead to 4-0 before Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who had four goals in Game 2, scored Ottawa's lone goal in Game 3.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist bounced back from a shaky Game 2 with 26 saves. He said the extra day before Game 3 helped the team recover from a devastating loss.
"It was actually really good to get an extra day to kind of get away from everything and regroup and then (Monday) we prepared for this game," Lundqvist said. "Everybody understood the importance of this one and we came out in the first period and set the tone. There is no question, I think that we were the better team tonight."
The Senators were outshot 15-5 in the first period and never recovered. Craig Anderson stopped 26 of 30 shots and was caught out of his net on Grabner's goal, the second time this postseason that has happened to the goaltender.
Nash and Lindberg put the game out of reach during the second period, but both teams agreed Game 3 was won -- and lost -- in the first 20 minutes.
"They were good right off the bat," Anderson said. "When we started to get our legs, they got a couple good chances and they made good on a couple chances in the second. That kind of took the wind out of our sails."
"They were ready. They were hungry. They were desperate," Boucher said. "And we didn't match that at all. That's it."
Game 4 is scheduled for Thursday night at MSG, and there is one thing that won't change between Game 3 and 4 -- the Rangers will still be trailing in the series and, theoretically, the more desperate team. So how will Boucher manufacture the desperation that wasn't there Tuesday?
"We do what we did in the second game and the first game," Boucher said. "We wanted it badly. We do what we did against Boston (in the first round). We wanted those games badly. Right now is the first time we got to the point we were leading 2-0. The level of urgency (from the Rangers) is higher than anything we've met before. It's a good learning thing for our group. We need to grow and continue to improve."
The Rangers, meanwhile, don't want to change a thing.
"We are still down," Nash said, "so the next game is even that much of a bigger deal."
NOTES: Senators C Zack Smith (upper body) left the game in the first period and did not return. He played just three shifts. ... Senators RW Bobby Ryan (lower body) went to the locker room midway through the third period after he was hit with a shot and did not return. Both players will be evaluated Wednesday. ... The Senators have used the same lineup in all three games of the series. ... Rangers LW Tanner Glass, who had been a healthy scratch the past five games, returned to the lineup. He replaced LW Pavel Buchnevich. ... The Rangers have won three straight games at MSG. It is the first time they have done that since Feb. 9-19.