The New York Rangers overcame a sloppy second period sequence and eventually imposed their will on home ice on Thursday in Game 1, downing the Ottawa Senators by a 4-2 score.
The Rangers were up by four goals in the third period before Ottawa found the mark twice in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Senators goalie Craig Anderson made several impressive saves to keep it a 1-0 lead until late in the second period, but the Rangers would score on three of their next four shots.
Marian Gaborik and Brian Boyle scored late in the second, with Brad Richards finding the mark early in the third. New York captain Ryan Callahan opened the scoring in the first, while Artem Anisimov set up two goals for the home side.
Rangers coach John Tortorella called a timeout in the middle period not long before the span in which the club potted two within three minutes.
"We wanted to stop slapping the puck around," Tortorella said. "We kept smacking it back to them."
Tortorella credited goalie Henrik Lundqvist with some key stops before New York broke through.
Ottawa spoiled the shutout bid for New York midway through the third period when Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson re-directed a shot past fellow Swede Lundqvist. Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek drew assists on the play.
Erik Condra scored in his first career playoff game for the Senators late in the game.
"It was a pretty even game, but then we got off our game plan for a few minutes and it's 4-0," Spezza said. "We have to build off what we did in the third period.
The No. 1 Eastern Conference team lost three of four against Ottawa this season but came out roaring in the first and eventually demonstrated why they finished 17 points ahead of the Senators in this season's standings.
Ottawa was making its return to the playoffs after a disappointing 2010-11 campaign.
Game 2 of the conference quarter-final will be back at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).
Lundqvist was sharp early, stopping Jason Spezza on a partial breakaway and then turning aside Jim O'Brien, who weaved his way through the New York defense before getting off an in-close drive that was knocked away.
Lundqvist finished with 30 saves.
Anderson stopped 27 shots, but it wasn't enough for him to maintain his perfect mark at MSG. He had been 6-0 with a 1.13 goals-against average and two shutouts in his previous Madison Square Garden starts.
The Senators dominated play throughout the second period, but a couple of late lapses turned a tight game into a virtual runaway. They took solace in playing a strong third period.
Even with three straight power plays that spanned the first and second periods, the Senators were frustrated by either Lundqvist or players in front of him who dived to block shots from ever getting through.
"We have to get more traffic in front of Lundqvist," Spezza said. "They are going to block a lot of shots. When he can see it, he's one of the best."
Ottawa kept up constant pressure in the New York end during the second period. It just didn't produce any results. The Senators hemmed in the Rangers several times and forced a handful of icing calls. It got so bad that Tortorella was forced to call timeout to give his guys a breather after back-to-back icings.
"They had the momentum at that point," Callahan said. "We knew that was going to happen throughout the game, we just had to calm ourselves down and get back to work. I thought we did that after the timeout."
The Rangers outshot Ottawa 8-2 in the final 10:02 of the second.
After the Rangers killed a questionable tripping call against defenceman Ryan McDonagh, while they nursed a 1-0 lead, Gaborik gave his club a bit of insurance.
The Rangers' leading scorer got the puck along the right wing boards, after the Senators turned it over in their own end, and drove toward the net. He stopped short in front of Anderson, shifted the puck to either side of his stick while looking for an opening, and then slid a shot into the net to make it 2-0 with 3:36 left in the second.
Gaborik, who scored 41 goals in the regular season, had another in-close chance earlier in the period, but elected to pass instead of shoot. He did it all himself this time in netting the unassisted goal.
The Rangers spent much of the two off days before the series opener working on their anemic power play. It didn't click late in the second, while Filip Kuba served a hooking call, but New York connected 13 seconds after the defenceman left the box.
Pressure continued to mount in the Ottawa end after the power play expired, and Anisimov lunged to nudge a bouncing rebound in the slot back to Boyle in the right circle. He got just enough of it to set up Boyle, who snapped in a shot with just 53.8 seconds left in the second to push the lead to 3-0.
The Senators were outshot 12-11 in the second, but it seemed much more one-sided in Ottawa's favour until the late strikes.
Callahan was itching to play in the postseason after being forced to miss New York's first-round loss to Washington last year because of a broken ankle. He made his presence felt throughout the spirited first period.
Callahan netted the first goal of the series when he got to a rebound of Anisimov's shot from the right point at the bottom edge of the right circle and whipped the puck around Kuba along the ice and between Anderson's pads with 7:59 left in the first.
The Rangers captain also stepped up at center ice and thwarted a Senators rush when he laid a crushing hit on Ottawa forward Jesse Winchester and sent him flying to the ice with just over two minutes left in the first.
"That is the way we have to play to win," Callahan said. "We felt like we've been playing playoff hockey right through the season.
"It's still a long series left. Taking Game 1 doesn't mean much."
The Rangers hosted Game 1 of a playoff series for the first time since the first round in 1996 against Montreal.
The last time they were the No. 1 seed in the East was in 1994, when they won the Stanley Cup.