By Jay Greenberg in New York
The New York Rangers haven't had the puck, seemingly, since Mike Gartner carried it past Tommy Albelin. What's more, their coach has a fuse even shorter than his leash on Stu Bickel.
And when it comes to seeking high moral ground on discipline-worthy acts in this Eastern Conference Final, John Tortorella has had about as much leg to stand on as Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky, who went out in Game 7 of the Ottawa series with an ankle injury.
But even if the Devils made this a new series Monday night, Tortorella seems like a new man. The last three days he suddenly has been answering questions in complete sentences and civil tones. Tuesday, he even cordially thanked a reporter who graciously bowed out of rephrasing a question that was just shot down as 'screwy' by the coach.
When several Rangers tried to stay on the ice for some extra work after yesterday's short full-squad practice, Tortorella immediately chased them off the ice.
With both he and Devils coach Pete DeBoer continuing to make certain that their bench confrontation that followed Rangers forward Mike Rupp's Game 4 gratuitous punch at Devils goalie Marty Brodeur not have any legs, Tortorella wanted to make sure his players still had theirs for Game 5 Wednesday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET).
Like all Game Fives in 2-2 series, this one will predict the ultimate winner with 79 per cent accuracy. That said, the Rangers were in the 21 per cent range in their opening series against Ottawa.
So never mind that the Devils completely controlled Game 4 after pretty much controlling Game 3 even while managing to get shut out, the last triple deflection probably puts one of these teams into the final.
And Tortorella, who intentionally or not has deflected a great deal of criticism of his team with his unprecedented boorish coaching media behaviour this spring, tried a new kind of redirection Tuesday.
Asked what he was going to do about Chris Kreider being the Rangers only top six forward with a goal (other than Ryan Callahan's empty-netter) this series Tortorella said: "Pray."
Just a little Torts humour there to ease the tension until the playoffs are over and he DeBoer have time to take their act over to Dangerfield's.
"I don't know what else to tell you," Tortorella added. "We're going to keep on trying to play, pray and hopefully something good happens to [his big guns]."
In retrospect, we had a better chance of catching these guys Tuesday at St. Patrick's Cathedral than in the Rangers' Madison Square Garden locker room.
Of those slumping, top two-line, forwards, only captain Callahan made himself available to talk to the media. Brad Richards, the Rangers' top player but not in this series, was especially conspicuous in his absence
Not that Tortorella cared. He found Broadway's hockey team at full attention during a Tuesday team meeting at which not one of the many screw-ups during the 4-1 defeat in Game 4 was hashed or rehashed.
"I feel really good about our approach today and how we're going to go about our business tomorrow," Tortorella said.
And what did he see that he liked? "Move by it," Tortorella said. "Move by it."
"You need to have a short-term memory. It's a whole different mindset as far as preparation in the regular season. And I think our meetings were good today. I think our practice had some jump. I just like watching the attitude of players. I think they're looking forward to playing their next game."
The Rangers are 2-2 in Round Three despite having won consecutive games only once during the playoffs. Then, again, they also have only once lost consecutive games.Understanding the competition
"You have to remember when we're trying to win two in a row, there's also a team trying to lose two in a row and a pretty good team at this stage of the season," said Tortorella.
Indeed, unlike the Flyers in the last round, who strangely admitted to underestimating a 102-point Devils team with which Philadelphia split six regular season games, the Rangers seem to fully understand what they have been up against from the start.
"Jersey has had the puck a lot more minutes than we do" summarized Tortorella, no joke to him at all. "I think that's something we need to try to change."
If not, as long as those pucks die in the pillow pads of Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers can win in the end anyway, exactly as they did the last two rounds.
"I knew [New Jersey] would come harder than the other two teams we played," said Lundqvist. "You have to give them some credit, they are coming really hard.
"When we played Washington we had about the same amount of chances but [the Caps] spent way less time in our end. They had a lot of odd-man rushes and then went back to their own end.
"The Devils have more forecheck going, put more pressure on our team. I don't mind more action. I enjoy it, just have to prepare for it. We responded well [in Game 5], got things going [eventually]. It's a matter for us to get it going right away and set the tone."
The Rangers aren't exactly on their knees, even if their coach is hitting his. Indeed, this is the time of a series when what Dick Irvin Sr. once called the "unseen hand" takes over. But as long as Lundqvist has his hands all over this series, maybe that's still the same thing.Follow Jay Greenberg on Twitter @scribejg.
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