Rangers doing best to move on
NEW YORK -- Ever have a party and walk hesitantly the next morning downstairs, fearful at what might await?
You know there might be stains on the upholstery, a few uprooted plants, broken glasses and you're not quite sure what happened to the dog.
That was the feeling around Madison Square Garden on Tuesday following the 4-1 beatdown the New York Rangers suffered in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, less than 24 hours earlier in Newark.
The loss not only evened the series at 2-2, it also revealed the Rangers had been pushed far outside their comfort zone by a New Jersey Devils team that represents a far superior opponent than either Ottawa or Washington, both of which pushed the Rangers to seven games in the first two rounds.
The Devils have been the better of the two teams through large portions of the first four games and, in spite of being shut out twice, used a dominating performance in Game 4 to put a significant amount of pressure on the top-seeded Rangers to both forget the recent past and find another gear for the immediate future.
"Move by it. Move by it. You need to have a short-term memory," Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday. "All coaches talk about it. In the playoffs, it's a whole different mindset as far as preparation than regular season. I think our meetings were good today. I think our practice had some jump. I just liked watching the attitude of players. I think they're looking forward to playing their next game. I just felt we had a really good day today."
The Devils, under Pete DeBoer, coaching in the playoffs for the first time, have proved to be a resourceful and adaptable team.
In Game 4, DeBoer inserted youngster Jacob Josefson into the lineup in place of Petr Sykora and juggled his top three forward lines. The machinations yielded the most complete game of the series, maybe the playoffs, for the Devils.
Zach Parise had a breakout night, with two goals and an assist, and although the power play still can't be described as formidable, it did break through with the Devils' second power-play goal of the series.
"I think that we've got a group here, a nice blend of experience, guys who have been there before and won, and youth, guys that are trying to get there for the first time," DeBoer said Tuesday via conference call. "And I think we've got a group that believes in the system and what we're doing. And we have a very clear picture of what works for us. And when we lose, it's usually because we step outside of that box.
"And when we win, it's because we don't. And I think we easily track ourselves back and regroup to where we need to be."
They responded to their worst beating of the playoffs by lashing out.
At one point, Tortorella leaned around the glass between the two players' benches and yelled at DeBoer. Interestingly, though, Tortorella was the model of decorum after the game and again on Tuesday.
Perhaps determined to provide a counterbalance to his team's high state of emotion, Tortorella was patient and thoughtful in answering reporters' questions, unlike earlier in the spring when he was antagonistic and brusque.
"I think that this series, right now, we don't have the puck enough. Jersey has the puck a lot more minutes than we do. I think that's something that we need to try and change," Tortorella said.
Neither coach expects the ugliness of the latter stages of Game 4 to bleed into Game 5, and they're right.
"I don't anticipate any more of that. I think the stakes are too high going forward here for any of that stuff to show up, but you never know," DeBoer said.
The squabbling between the two teams late in Game 4 overshadows a more significant problem for the Rangers and that is an offense that has been Sahara-dry all spring.
They have gone 17 straight postseason games without scoring more than three goals and have averaged exactly two goals per game over that 17-game stretch. That is not a recipe for defeating the offensively deeper Devils, let alone advancing to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1994.
Ryan Callahan has two goals in his past 14 games, one of those was into an empty net in Game 3 against the Devils. He has not scored an even-strength goal since Game 1 of the playoffs. Derek Steppan has gone 12 games without a goal and has just one this spring.
Marian Gaborik had a number of great looks in Game 4 but he has scored just once in his past seven games. Carl Hagelin, playing mostly with Gaborik and Brad Richards on the Rangers' top line, has no goals and contributed to the penalty parade in Game 4 with a pair of minor penalties in the third period.
If it wasn't for the dramatic offensive contribution from the back end the Rangers would be long gone.
So, how does Tortorella hope to get his top offensive players going?
"Pray," he quipped Tuesday. "I don't know what else to tell you but we're going to keep on trying to play, pray and hopefully something good happens to them."
Certainly the players understand that the current pattern won't end well.
"I want to be more a part of creating just momentum, even having the puck more in the offensive zone creating shots, it stems from that and I haven't been a part of that enough and I want to do more of that. I think everybody does," said Brian Boyle, who scored in the first three games of the postseason. He missed three games after being belted by Ottawa's Chris Neil and has since gone 12 straight without a goal.
The Rangers are a curious study at this point of the playoffs. They have shown a surprising lack of killer instinct having opened all three series with victories and then failed to capitalize with a second straight win three straight times. Starting with Game 1 of the second round, their record is W-L-W-L-W-L-W-W-L-W-L. See a pattern?
"It defines our team. We have been through the year, the regular season, through playoffs, our resiliency. 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," said Tortorella, who didn't make his team watch video of Game 4.
Say this for Tortorella's crew: They may not have the killer instinct but they have certainly mastered the art of survival this spring. In each of the first two series the Rangers have faced a similar best-of-three scenario and managed to win two out of three each time.
"I guess the positive is we're used to this situation, we've been in it two other times," Callahan said.
"Like I said before, we've got a best-of-three, two at home, and it's something that we've been through and we'll be ready for tomorrow's game."
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