‘Hart Off The Ice’
By Sean Hartnett
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Not every team in the NHL has a strong identity.  Some teams struggle for decades to find the right leaders inside their locker room and a head coach who can inspire unity and belief.

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Rome wasn’t built in one day and neither was the present day New York Rangers who are leading the Eastern Conference with 66 points going into the All-Star break.

Their identity has been forged through a combination of excellent scouting, careful minor league development and philosophies set forth by head coach John Tortorella.

The Rangers are a very tight-knit group who have each other’s backs and willingly do whatever is necessary for the cause.  It’s not just homegrown players such as Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi who are selflessly throwing their bodies in front of speeding pucks and doing the dirty work needed to hold onto victories.

Much of that credit also belongs to Tortorella who has instilled a team belief that few contenders around the NHL can match.  Girardi spoke about Tortorella’s influence after Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.

“He likes everyone blocking shots.  It doesn’t matter if it’s me or whoever else out there.  He really gave us a lot of praise after the Boston game for blocking those shots.  That’s our style of play, it’s not just my style of play.  It happens to be our system so it works to my advantage to block shots.  When everyone’s doing that and everyone is doing what he tells us to do, it makes our game a lot easier,” Girardi detailed.

Tortorella’s winning formula isn’t a perplexing mystery or a closely-guarded secret that rivals are trying to uncover.

The success of the New York Rangers is built upon the concept that individual talents can only get a team so far.  While the Blueshirts are a talented group, they rely on sticking to Tortorella’s system and disciplined hockey.

Michael Del Zotto spoke about maintaining that discipline through the All-Star break.

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The Rangers held Winnipeg to 22 shots on goal, while pressuring Jets’ net-minder Ondrej Pavelec with 31 shots.  New York excelled in transitioning defense into offense and their discipline allowed them to find breaks in the offensive zone.  Outside of Callahan’s goal that came off a rebound, it was their defensive fortitude that helped the Rangers create offense.

Girardi spoke about the importance of keeping momentum throughout an entire game and controlling play.

That discipline was also evident against the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon.  The Rangers weren’t out for blood or vengeance after Andrew Ference leveled a vulnerably-positioned Ryan McDonagh.  Thankfully, McDonagh did not suffer a significant injury after going shoulder first into boards after Ference’s cheap-shot from behind.

Instead of retaliating with an equally mindless penalty, the Blueshirts kept their cool, stayed within their system and were rewarded when Marian Gaborik scored the overtime-winning goal with 3.6 seconds remaining.

“We don’t care about first place, we don’t care about conference, we don’t care about division.  We care about trying to play every night the right way and then the results will take care of themselves,” Tortorella stated after Saturday’s victory over the Bruins.

Taking one game at a time and staying focused on the task at hand sounds like a simple approach but actually executing this plan isn’t easy.  They say you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink but the Rangers have fully embraced Tortorella’s ‘one day at a time’ philosophy.

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Rangers fans, what do you make of Tortorella’s philosophies?  Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.