Hartnett: Rangers’ Tortorella Is The Master Of Mind Games
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By Sean Hartnett
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John Tortorella knows when to push the appropriate buttons to get what he desires from his players, to undermine opponents and to gain favor with referees and the powers that run the NHL.
After Thursday night’s 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh, Tortorella ripped into the Penguins. Defenseman Brooks Orpik appeared to deliberately make a knee-to-knee hit on Rangers’ center Derek Stepan.
“It’s a cheap, dirty hit,” said Tortorella. “I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there? I wonder what would happen? So I’m anxious to see what happens with the league with this. Just no respect amongst players. None. It’s sickening.”
He continued, “It’s one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this stuff all the time, and look what happens. It’s ridiculous. But they’ll whine about something else over there, won’t they? Starting with their two [expletive] stars.”
Tortorella’s words will have a three-pronged effect. First, it makes referees and the league more aware and more accountable for the sneaky knee-to-knee plays Orpik and the Penguins have practiced over the years.
Secondly, it covers up another poor performance by the Rangers at the Consol Energy Center and thirdly it cultivates an ‘us versus the world mentality’ inside the Rangers’ locker room.
Rightfully so, Orpik was given a game misconduct and five-minute major penalty but he and teammates Matt Cooke and Joe Vitale have gotten away with a number of dirty incidents in the past.
Earlier this season, Brendan Shanahan suspended Colorado’s Kevin Porter for four games for this incident:
Considering Orpik’s reputation and history, he should receive a harsher ban. Orpik made a similar kneeing play on Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2010 pre-season. Throughout his career, he’s also been accused of often leaving his feet to dangerously board opponents.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and co. have always been depicted as ‘the NHL’s choir boys’ even when engaging in tactics that conflict with the spirit of the game.
When the Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks or Philadelphia Flyers partake in an act that goes over the line of sportsmanship, they’re immediately branded as ‘bullies’ or ‘thugs.’
The Penguins have always gotten off the hook when it comes to bad PR but of course, that shouldn’t be surprising. We all know how important they are to league in terms of marketability.
Last season, Crosby slew-footed Rangers’ captain Ryan Callahan but he did not receive a penalty or any further punishment. Strangely, Callahan was the one who was called for interference. God forbid the day Crosby is viewed by the masses as a dirty player or even worse, a player who willingly attempts to injure a fellow professional…
What would it mean if ‘the NHL’s Golden Boy’ was observed in a negative light by the public? That’s right, the NHL would lose marketing partners and casual hockey fans drawn to Crosby’s image as ‘The Next One.’ Crosby was handed down the torch of responsibility to carry the league as its face from fore-bearers Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
If a writer like myself believes the NHL is protecting the image of Crosby and the Penguins, one could imagine how the Rangers feel behind closed doors about these double standards. Injustice is the word that I’m looking for. If Stepan misses extended time, this will only further fuel his teammates’ desire to exorcise past playoff demons and win ‘their way.’
The Rangers have already wrapped-up first place in the Eastern Conference standings, but Tortorella has instilled an identity within his Blueshirts that they are always underdogs.
By painting the Penguins as a team that is favored by the league on the eve of the playoffs, Tortorella has lit a fuse under his first-place Rangers.
Is Tortorella the master of mind-games? Should Orpik receive a considerable ban? Will Tortorella’s comments light a fire under the Rangers? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.