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Rangers optimistic heading into second half of season

1/5/2011

NEW YORK -- The Rangers' first half of the season would've been good enough to place the Blueshirts in the playoffs. After Wednesday night's 2-1 overtime victory vs. Carolina, the Rangers were in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

But if the Rangers want to ensure themselves of a return to the playoffs after missing out on the fun last season, head coach John Tortorella needs to see more from his team in the second half of the season.

"We’re going to have to be a better team. We're going to have to work on the details because the games are going to be tougher. I think we're in the right direction. I know we're in the right direction, but there's a fine line between winning and losing hockey games," Tortorella said.

"No matter what is going on with your club -- and I'm really excited about a lot of things going with the team -- there's a fine line between winning and losing, and that comes down to details."

The Rangers will look to hone in on their details and are optimistic about their chances of earning a playoff spot as they head into the second half. The Rangers are currently six points ahead of last season's pace and eight points ahead of ninth-place Carolina in the playoff battle.

"We know where we are and we know what we need to do in order to be a team that's gonna push for not only going into the playoffs but we have an opportunity to fight for our conference here, with how tight the Eastern Conference is," center Brandon Dubinsky said. "We just have to keep pushing."

The details of the game comes down to execution and preventing mistakes. Tortorella used the example of Eric Staal's game-tying goal for Carolina coming off a mistake against Brian Boyle's line Wednesday.

"That's what happens the second half of the year are the small things, and we have to continue to work on that and remain with our personality as a team," Tortorella said. "That's what we were tonight and be consistent with it."

Dubinsky said at the beginning of the season, there were questions about what type of team the Rangers would be this year, but at the midway point, he believes the Rangers have found their identity. The Rangers play a scrappy, hustling style of physical hockey with plenty of players contributing to their success instead of one or two stars leading the way.

While Tortorella said the team lost its identity for a bit, he believes that Wednesday night's hard-earned 2-1 overtime win was a step in the right direction of regaining it.

"It's a good group and we're not the most talented group in the world," Tortorella said. "The thing that I think is going to have to carry us through is to play as a team and that's what I think has given us our first-half start here is I think we've played really well as a team."

Last season ended in the most heartbreaking of fashions, a shootout loss to the Flyers in the last game of the season that put the Flyers in the playoff and kept the Rangers at home. It was the first time the Rangers missed the playoffs since the 2004-05 lockout.

So far, the Rangers are putting themselves in a position where they won't have to fight for a berth on the last day of the season.

"I feel really good about this team and the way we work and everybody shows up every night to work really hard and we’ve been winning a lot of tight games because of that and when you work hard you’ll get bounces," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "You can’t win every night but when you work really hard you will definitely win more than you lose. It’s also fun to watch everybody blocking shots and stand up for each other."