One of the characteristics that has defined this edition of the New York Rangers has been their collective buoyancy. With the Eastern Conference Final now a best-of-3, Rangers coach John Tortorella believes mental toughness will once again come to the forefront.
“We’re one of four teams still playing,” Tortorella said Tuesday afternoon following the Rangers’ practice at Madison Square Garden. “You have to remember when we’re trying to win two in a row, there’s also a team trying not to lose two in a row, and it’s a pretty good team at this stage of the season.
“Like I said last night, I feel really good about our approach today and how we’re going to go about our business tomorrow.”
The two aspects of his team’s game in which Tortorella would like to see improvement are puck possession and goal scoring. New Jersey has simply controlled the puck better throughout the first four games of the series.
“We don’t have the puck enough," Tortorella said. "Jersey has the puck a lot more minutes than we do. I think that’s something we need to try to change. It’s a combination of a number of things. It’s getting out of your end clean. It’s holding on to pucks in their end when they have opportunities. It comes just within your play. There’s no one particular thing. But it has been a series so far of them having the puck a lot more than we have. That’s what we’re going to try to change.
“It’s tactical, execution [and] willingness. All sorts of things come into play as far as territory and puck possession. It’s just a simple fact. We need to get better at it.”
Tortorella wouldn’t mind seeing his high-end offensive forwards begin to put the puck in the net either. The Rangers have scored nine goals in the four games. Chris Kreider (three goals) and Dan Girardi (two goals) have five of the Rangers’ goals. Artem Anisimov, Marc Staal, Ryan Callahan and Ruslan Fedotenko have a goal apiece. The goals scored by Anisimov and Callahan were empty-netters.
So, what is the strategy for getting production out of the top line of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin, who have combined for no goals and three assists in the four games?
“Pray,” Tortorella said. “I don’t know what else to tell you. We’re going to keep on trying to play, pray and hopefully something good happens to them.”
• Devils coach Pete DeBoer heard tales of the New York Rangers-New Jersey Devils rivalry while coaching the Ontario [Junior] Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers and the NHL’s Florida Panthers. Now, in his first year as coach of the Devils, in the midst of his first playoff series against their rivals, DeBoer is getting an on-the-job indoctrination about how intense the games against the Rangers are.
“It’s exactly what I had heard it was and what I anticipated it would be,” DeBoer said during a conference call Tuesday, a day off for his squad. “I don’t want to use words like ‘hate.’ The rivalry is what I expected it to be. I’d heard about it and it’s lived up to its billing.
“Every league you coach in there’s rivalries like that. [Kitchener] had rivalries with [OHL] Guelph [Storm] where my assistant coach Dave Barr coached and Dale Hunter coached half an hour up the road [in London, Ontario, with the OHL’s London Knights] from where we were. So the type of emotion that’s involved is the same. The only difference is you’ve got 10 million people here.”
Monday night’s Game 4 was highlighted by a shouting match between DeBoer and Tortorella. The day after, DeBoer’s players praised him for, as Martin Brodeur said, being “really into” the emotional component that defines the playoff season.
“He’s got a fire, no doubt,” Brodeur said. “It’s nice to see for the guys.”
Added Zach Parise: “We know how much of a competitor he is. He cares about his players and he cares about winning. So I think it’s great to see when your coach is involved in that and cares like that. I don’t know if something just happened to push him over the edge last night and that’s fine with us. We know that he cares about us and cares about the team.”
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman