And now ... they wait.
The locker room mood was upbeat in the wake of the Rangers' 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils in the regular season finale, but also anxious as the team waits for tonight's Carolina-Tampa Bay game. As has been mentioned countless times in the past two days, if the Canes win, they're in the playoffs ahead of the Rangers even though Carolina would only have 41 wins compared to New York's 44.
Vinny Prospal and John Torterella aren't exactly loving that fact.
"I don't get this," Prospal said, dressing up his confusion with some rather colorful language. "The other team doesn't have as many wins as us. So, if it's not going to count, what the [heck] is the shootout for?"
"I’m pissed off at the whole circumstance and I’ve kept my mouth shut," Tortorella said. "I understand we make our own bed, we had some inconsistency, especially at the end of the year we had some clunkers. That falls on us. But I just don’t get it. 44 wins to 41, maybe, and we’re going to be [out] when we should be in the playoffs."
Tortorella was a little more explicit with what the Rangers would be doing with their spare time, but I dressed it down a bit. It was Kids Day after all.
The Rangers coach was also rather emphatic that missing the playoffs would not diminish the team's season as a whole.
"I’ll tell you right now, I’m not going to be talked into. I’m not going to be talked at. I’m not going to listen to any bull[crap] about what kind of year this season was," Tortorella said. "There are too many good things that have happened with this club and we’re on the right road and we’re doing it the right way."
While he conceded that the team needs to increase its skill level to get where they want to be, presumably Stanley Cup contenders, he was firm in his belief that the team is going about the process the right way, noting the strong play of young players like Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer.
Take it to 'em, Tampa
While the prevailing thought is that the Lightning will rest its stars and mail in tonight's game against Carolina to prepare for the playoffs, Tortorella thinks otherwise.
"I know it's going to be handled the right way. That bodes well for the league and hopefully for us," he said, noting that he will not be watching the game.
When asked if there was "money on the board," an expression meaning that a strong performance will be rewarded with a cash incentive, Tortorella wryly replied: "Not cash ... " He was also asked if he or any of his players would try to get the word out to Tampa to play hard tonight. While NHL tampering rules come into play, Tortorella noted, mischievously, "There are always ways." Take that as you will.
"It's going to be tough," Drury said regarding watching tonight's game. "It's always hard, but at least we did our part. Now we're just going to have to sit and wait and watch."
As I wrote in the Rapid Reaction, 14 different Rangers had at least one point in today's game. And those who didn't get on the scoresheet were contributing in other ways, particularly Brian Boyle who was a one-man wrecking crew on the ice.
"We emptied the tank today," Boyle said. "Even when we were down 2-1 we were flying around, hitting everything we could. That was a fun game to be a part of. Blue collar, that's the way we had to play today and the way we have to play all the time."
In his surprise return, Chris Drury might have scored the most important goal of the Rangers' season. And it certainly had the locker room buzzing afterward.
"He's worked extremely hard just to get back here," Prospal said. "Getting into playing shape isn't easy to do. He showed a lot of character coming back and I'm so glad he scored that goal because it shows what kind of person he is."
"I can't even explain what happened to the bench when Dru scored," Boyle said. "I'm so happy for the guy. He's our leader and he did exactly that tonight."
"I'm just happy to be part of it again," Drury said, noting that his 7:48 of ice time met his expectations for how much action he'd see today.
"That’s good stuff," Tortorella said, beaming. "I'm so happy for him. He catches more [crap] out there in all kinds of ways."
The goal was his first of an injury-plagued season in which he's played just 23 games and averaged 12 minutes per.