- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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John Tortorella led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004.
But that team, the Rangers coach says, wasn't as tight as his current one.
"This is the tightest team I've coached as far as how they've bonded," Tortorella said after the Rangers blanked the Devils 2-0 on Monday night at the Garden -- hours after the 3 p.m. trade deadline expired.
There's no question the Rangers could've used Rick Nash's goal-scoring prowess in their lineup. That's why they gave it their best shot to try to land him. But the organization liked its roster too much to meet Columbus' steep demands -- and Tortorella wouldn't have it any other way.
"I told you guys all year long, I like the hockey club," Tortorella said.
The Rangers (40-15-6, 21-7-2 home), who are 11-3-2 in their last 16 games, have earned the right to stay together. They hold a commanding nine-point lead in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, and have the best points percentage in the NHL (.705). They've allowed the second-fewest goals per game in the league (1.95), and have been dominant on the penalty-kill (86.2 percent).
Adding Nash would've helped ignite a Rangers offense that ranks 12th in the NHL in goals scored per contest (2.72). But goaltender Henrik Lundqvist wonders how it would've affected the team’s chemistry.
"I feel really good about this group," said Lundqvist, who made 13 saves to earn his eighth shutout of the season. "Every time you [add] someone into the group it will change the dynamic a bit. He's a great player, don't get me wrong. Maybe he would've helped us. But I really believe we have what it takes, and I'm happy management felt the same way."
The Blue Jackets wanted young talent and prized prospects from the Rangers in exchange for Nash. But GM Glen Sather wasn't biting.
Derek Stepan? Nope. Michael Del Zotto? No way. Ryan McDonagh? Not a chance. Brandon Dubinsky? Not if it means dismantling the farm system.
"We didn’t lose any kids [Monday]," Tortorella said. "I think that's very important as we're still in the process. We're heading in the right direction, but it's still a process."
"We've been building this for five to six months now," Lundqvist said. "We've been doing a pretty good job, and I think we deserve to stay together and see what we can do."
On Monday, the Rangers showed that they can clamp down defensively and grind out a victory -- as they've done many times before.
Rookie Carl Hagelin scored a gritty goal in front, the Rangers held the Devils to a season-low 13 shots -- the fewest shots the Rangers have allowed in a game since they held the Flames to 11 on Jan. 19, 1981 at MSG, according to the Elias Sports Bureau -- and Lundqivst came up big when he had to. The Rangers are now 25-0-2 when leading after two periods and 29-1-2 when scoring first.
"They're crawling up our a--," Tortorella said of the Devils, who now trail the Rangers by 12 points with 20 games remaining in the regular season. "We're trying to stay with them, and it turns into that [gritty] type of game."
The Rangers prevailed, moving a step closer to their goal of ending an 18-year Cup drought. They're still far away from that goal, though, and to get there they'll have to stay close-knit as a group.
"We really hold each other accountable, battle and have the will to compete," McDonagh said. "That's a tough thing to find in a locker room, especially at this level. We're really just looking forward to every game now, and it's a great mentality to have."
John Tortorella led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004. But that team, the Rangers coach says, wasn't as tight as his current one. "This is the tightest team I've coached as far as how they've bonded," Tortorella said after the Rangers blanked the Devils 2-0 on Monday night at the Garden -- hours after the 3 p.