Wednesday, May 16, 2012 Updated: May 17, 1:07 PM ET
Rangers suffering through terrible 2s
By Katie Strang ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK -- Another series, another Game 2, another chance to take a commanding lead ... squandered.
For as much as the Rangers get credit for their mental toughness, their grit, their resilience -- all true -- they also need to take accountability for their inability to take control. And that was on display Wednesday as they let a 1-0 series lead slip away while the Devils rallied for a 3-2 win that tied the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece.
John Tortorella benched Marian Gaborik for much of the third period. Why, Torts?
Part of that accountability also falls on coach John Tortorella, despite his choice to spurn it with his petulant behavior -- a spectacle that is beginning to overshadow the team itself.
This is a top-seeded Rangers club that, en route to the Eastern Conference title, put together winning streaks of five games or more on four occasions. Playoffs are a different animal, no question, but that is no excuse. The Rangers now have lost four straight Game 2s, all three this season by a 3-2 margin. (On the bright side, following each of the previous three Game 2 losses, the Blueshirts won Game 3.)
The Rangers' grinding, stingy style doesn't lend itself to dominance, but it does rely on consistency. And if the Rangers fail to string together wins during the postseason, they'll be sent packing eventually.
Is there an explanation for why the team has struggled to assert itself against opponents?
"Not really," said defenseman Marc Staal, who recorded his third goal of the playoffs to tie the game at 1 early in the second period. "It's a playoff series. Obviously we would've liked to go up two-nothing. That wasn't the case, but we look forward to Saturday and rebounding."
On Saturday, the series shifts to Newark, where the Devils will host the Rangers with the home-ice advantage, all the momentum and little of the pressure.
Having surrendered Game 1 on Monday despite outplaying the Rangers for the majority of the match, the sixth-seeded Devils tied the series with David Clarkson's go-ahead deflection early in the third Wednesday.
Eastern Conference Playoffs
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"I think for us to go in and be able to pull the one game out of this building, we have to be really proud of ourselves," said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who made 23 saves. "They're a hell of a team. They're hard to play against in their own building. And we just have to take this momentum into our own building now and make our building a tough place for them to play also."
The pressure will be on the Rangers on Saturday, to be sure. And Tortorella is doing no favors alleviating that tension with his tired routine that is becoming every bit the sideshow to the team's shortcomings.
Among the things Tortorella refused to discuss Wednesday night: why he benched Marian Gaborik (a 41-goal regular-season scorer who makes $7.5 million a year) for the majority of the third period, including the last 1:29 in regulation with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist pulled for the extra attacker.
Gaborik was stapled to the bench for the majority of the third period after his casual clearing attempt allowed the Devils to keep the puck in the zone and tie the game on Ryan Carter's deflection late in the second.
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With four goals and six assists, Gaborik trails only Brad Richards (six goals, five assists) in postseason scoring for the Rangers. Yet Tortorella did not even have him on the ice for the last 1:29 of the game with the Rangers in desperate need of a tying goal. Tortorella used every one of his other top-six forwards except Gaborik.
And he refused to explain why.
Tortorella also declined to elaborate on the effort, the necessary adjustments and virtually every other question in a particularly curt postgame news conference.
Instead, Tortorella said he'd rather "keep it in the room," which is exactly where the media now will direct their questions given his unwillingness to answer them.
Maybe that's the desired effect, but for a coach who seems to loathe distractions, he sure is creating one.