‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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If you’re a Rangers fan, you have probably hit the panic switch repeatedly through Games 1 and 2 at TD Garden. Chances are you’ve lost faith in John Tortorella and the Blueshirts’ anemic 2-for-36 power play.
The Rangers’ power play has fallen to 5.5 percent, and is edging dangerously close to that 4.5 percent New York City sales tax rate. Seeing defenseman Dan Girardi’s faulty play lead to Henrik Lundqvist surrendering five goals for the first time in his playoff career has sent many Rangers fans into full panic mode.
You’re going to take your accustomed seat at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday or join your friends at your favorite local watering hole with the feeling that the same things are inevitably going to happen as Game 3 gets under way.
I don’t blame you. All the signs are there for a complete and utter collapse as the Rangers are already down 0-2 to a Boston Bruins team that is playing physically and outhustling the Blueshirts. After all, falling apart when the pressure is on is what the Rangers do best — right?
You’re just waiting for that other shoe to drop and you’re readying whether to assign blame to Tortorella, Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Glen Sather or any combination of Rangers players, coaches or executives that have drawn your ire.
You feel like you’ve been “sold a bill of goods” about this team. The excitement generated by the Nash trade and the hope left over from last year’s near-journey to the Stanley Cup has subsided. That magical year of 1994 feels like a long time ago, and next season will be the 20th anniversary of the Rangers ending their 54-year curse.
Since that time, you’ve watched the New Jersey Devils parade the Stanley Cup in the parking lot of Izod Center on three occasions and come close to christening Prudential Center with a Stanley Cup of its own.
Adam Henrique’s Game 6 overtime-winner to clinch the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals for New Jersey was a sudden deathblow to what some Rangers fans would describe as their last hope.
After all, Lundqvist is 31, and he’s not getting any younger. His window to win is beginning to close. Lundqvist is more frustrated and feels more helpless than ever. If the arrival of Nash can’t turn the Rangers into a free-scoring team, who can?
And it all comes back to Tortorella. You’re probably sick of his safety-first and inexpressive style of hockey. After seeing the Bruins light up the Rangers for five goals, you’re seething at Tortorella.
You’re probably asking yourself these very questions:
– How can this team, that is supposed to play tight defensive hockey, give up five goals in a game?
– Can this team handle the physicality of the Bruins without Ryane Clowe and Marc Staal?
– Why are these three Bruins rookies (Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski) playing more effectively than more experienced Rangers blueliners?
– Why is Richards still working the point on the power play? Better yet, why is Richards still in the lineup?
OK, I get it. These are all logical questions and your anger is justified.
STEP AWAY FROM THE PANIC SWITCH
Still, despite all this, the Rangers aren’t anywhere close to being done in this series.
They dug themselves out of an 0-2 hole in Washington largely without playing their best hockey. We haven’t seen the best from the Rangers in these playoffs, yet here they stand. They’ve been in this situation before, they’re still alive and Tortorella believes that his team will respond.
“There will be no give in this team,” Tortorella said after Game 2. “Again, we need to go win a game, not look anywhere else, just try to win our first home game of this series.”
Maybe you don’t look at the Rangers with the same set of eyes that I do. I see a group that looks itself in the mirror, examines its flaws and responds. When I observe Tortorella, I don’t see a stubborn, absolutist coach. What is see in Torts is a master motivator who is calculated in every decision that he makes.
He publicly called out Carl Hagelin by declaring that Hagelin “stinks on the power play” ahead of Game 2. Hagelin didn’t solve the Rangers’ power-play woes, though he played with a lot more jump.
Meanwhile, Tortorella has kept telling Nash to keep doing what he’s doing. Through two games against the Bruins, Nash has registered 10 shots, and he finally broke his playoff-goal drought by scoring a stylish goal in Game 2.
Tortorella knows his team inside and out. Give him the benefit of the doubt before you come charging at him with flaming torches and pitchforks to run him out of town.
No team has ever come back from 0-2 deficits in back-to-back series in NHL history. If there’s ever a team that might do it, it’s Tortorella’s prideful Rangers.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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