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The New York Rangers held a meeting, Rick Nash said, and "tried to erase everything that happened."

The big Rangers forward was speaking in New York Monday morning of the first two games of the Eastern Conference semi-final, in which Ottawa had taken a surprising, if not commanding, two-games-to-none lead after Saturday's wild double-overtime 6-5 victory.

If only it were that simple – press "delete," start over.

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The oddity is that under the old playoff format, those first two games would have been played at Madison Square Garden rather than the Canadian Tire Centre. The Rangers had finished the regular season with 102 points, the Senators with 98, but since the Senators stood second in their division and the Rangers fourth in their much stronger division, home ice, along with whatever advantages it might hold, fell first to the Senators. No wonder Ranger after Ranger spoke so warmly of the Garden and its raucous fans. Defenceman Brendan Smith talked about how chills run up and down his back during the anthem. Centre Derek Stepan said the fans there "seem to spark us."

"Hopefully," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said, "we can find a way to get the first one at home and take it from there."

"The nice thing about a race for four," Stepan added, "is you can lose the first two and still get it done."

Such optimism. Such resolve.

Over on the Senators' side, the master of reverse psychology, head coach Guy Boucher – who actually holds a master's degree in sports psychology – seemed to be trying to convince reporters that his team was actually down two games to none against the steamrolling Rangers.

He talked about his players' "resilience," about their "fighting back," about how they had used the first down day in New York for "reloading emotionally."

Having previously used the self-applied "underdog" tag to fire up his team, the reverse psychologist wanted it known that, on paper, the Senators hardly have a prayer.

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"First off, they have more than 1,000 games experience in the playoffs," he said of the mighty Rangers. "Which is more than double what we've got."

One Senator with valuable playoff experience is Clarke MacArthur, the overtime hero in the series against the Boston Bruins. MacArthur left Saturday's game after a collision in the early going and did not return, leading to speculation that concussion symptoms – which cost him most of the past two seasons – might have returned.

MacArthur will dress and play Tuesday, however. The problem, he said Monday, was a pinched nerve. "I got it worked on," he told reporters in New York, "and it's literally not an issue at all."

Boucher did turn positive when the subject switched from the Rangers to Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the centre from just across the Ottawa River who tied the game in the dying moments with his third goal of the night, a hat trick, then won the game with his fourth on a night that Ottawa fans are not likely to forget.

Pageau, Boucher said, is "the perfect soldier … a do-it-all guy … a jack of all trades." He never complains, never says "but," just goes about his business – which, most other nights, is not about goal scoring at all but about shutting down players such as Nash, who have bigger reputations for scoring.

"You just ask him what you need and he's going to do it," Boucher said.

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"Maybe I should ask for more goals."

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault was equally impressed by Pageau's performance – and rather surprised. "Maybe I'm going to put a checker on their checker," he told a Sunday conference call, "because he's supposed to be their checker and he got four goals."

"He's going to check my checkers, I'm going to check his checkers," Boucher shot back in a separate gathering with the media. "I guess it won't be a chess match. It will be a checkers match."

There will almost certainly be much closer checking Tuesday night than there was on Saturday, as there is nothing that so bothers Boucher, if not Vigneault as well, as a loose game in which players rely on instinct rather than instruction.

While it is unlikely another 11 goals will be scored, it is entirely possible that overtime may once again rule. Saturday's long game in Ottawa marked the fifth time in the postseason that Senators games have gone to extra time – a total of seven extra periods of hockey in only eight matches.

Many years ago, the brilliant Harry Neale once found his Vancouver Canucks so caught up in a string of overtimes that he suggested, tongue in cheek, that perhaps the league should consider getting rid of regulation time.

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So tight were the first two games in this series, both decided by a single goal, that Vigneault said the margin of error or victory is almost negligible.

"So far," he told reporters after the Rangers skate, "they've made one more defensive play, one more offensive play in each game and that's why they're up 2-0. We need to be the team that makes that one extra defensive play and that one more offensive play that pays off."

If that doesn't work, it may require another meeting.

And a larger eraser.

It’s no secret that stadiums can be switched from hockey to basketball or vice versa overnight, but few sports fans could tell you how it’s actually done. Watch the conversion crew at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre do it overnight. The Globe and Mail
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