‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Trailing 2-0 in the second period of Game 4, the New York Rangers stared down the prospect of being swept by the Boston Bruins directly in the face. We’ve seen ordinary teams fold it up and pack it in when there’s a mountain to climb.
The Rangers are very far from being a perfect hockey club – but they’re even further from being branded as a common, run-of-the-mill team. Character, rather than skill, is what defines John Tortorella’s Rangers.
ORDINARY? NOT THESE RANGERS
Most teams would allow their heads to sag under the weight of what appeared to be an impossible task. It also would’ve been understandable for the Rangers to be distracted when respected alternate captain Brad Richards and well-liked veteran winger Arron Asham’s names were suddenly scratched from the lineup. Adversity didn’t get the better of the Rangers during their first-round series against the Washington Capitals, and it’s not getting in their way now.
This team could have chosen to crumble after solidifying defenseman Anton Stralman joined the trio of Marc Staal, Ryane Clowe and Darroll Powe on the growing list of injured players. They didn’t allow themselves to fall apart.
Many things are broken and wrong with the Rangers, yet they’re not letting any of this blur their focus or curtail their desire in any measure. With their backs pressed firmly against the wall, the bold Blueshirts responded with a spirit befitting the pavement-hustling city they represent.
Say what you like about Tortorella and call him whatever you want. Go ahead and pick apart perceived weaknesses in his coaching philosophies. Feel free to detest the man for his rough-around-the-edges personality that results in him cursing on the bench, challenging the media or exploding in any number of ways. It doesn’t matter whether Tortorella is perceived as a bully or a tyrant. He’ll keep doing things his way – and it works.
TORTORELLA MAKES BRAVE CALL BY SCRATCHING RICHARDS
Removing Brad Richards from the lineup is a big, big call. Especially if you’re Tortorella. It takes a lot of stones to pull the plug on a player you’ve marched with to hockey’s mountaintop – and that’s precisely what Tortorella did.
“I need to make decisions about what I feel is right for our team to win tonight’s game and that’s why I made that decision,” Tortorella said of scratching Richards.
Despite Richards’ obvious struggles, he remains a highly experienced player who has scored 78 points in 93 career playoff games, lifted the Stanley Cup and won a Conn Smythe Trophy. It pained Tortorella to do this to Richards, a player whom he shares an extremely close relationship and definitive trust.
“This is a Conn Smythe winner, a guy that I’ve grown up with, a guy that I love as a person and a player – but I have to make that decision regarding this,” Tortorella explained. “It’s not about blaming that guy, this is my decision and I made it for the hockey club.”
STEPAN COMES UP BIG IN GAME 4
If there’s one player who stood out more than any other for the Rangers in Game 4, it was Derek Stepan. He made two vital contributions in the third period. If not for Stepan’s goal and assist, the Rangers would be stewing in misery instead of shipping up to Boston.
“Step makes a huge play for us early on. I thought he gave us some life,” Tortorella said of Stepan’s third period goal.
Stepan made a tremendously alert play to even the game early in the third period. He pressured Zdeno Chara behind Boston’s net to steal the puck from the Bruins’ captain and snuck the puck past Tuukka Rask on a skillful wrap-around effort.