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Rangers still believe, but the clock is ticking

Thursday, 03.11.2010 / 10:58 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

His team is on the outside of the playoff race, and at the time of the interview had been on the wrong end of three-straight games, scoring just once in the last two. But Wednesday morning from Prudential Center, New York Rangers right wing Marian Gaborik talked like a believer.

"It's going to come," Gaborik said. "We'll be good. We'll be fine."

How, you may ask, can a team in the Rangers' predicament still be confident? It's a good question, and a fair one, considering:

* After breakdowns in front of the net and a porous power play led to a 6-3 loss to the Devils Wednesday night, the Rangers haven't won in four straight and are 10-12-5 since New Year's Day. They are three points behind Boston for eighth in the Eastern Conference, but the Bruins have two games in hand.

 
* Their offensive struggles are well-documented, but a lot of times when they do score goals, like the four they recently got against Pittsburgh or the three they put into the net in New Jersey, they give up more due to defensive breakdowns.

* Gaborik has just 1 goal in his last six games and the general consensus is he's not playing at 100 percent.

* Nine of their last 15 games are on the road.

"Part of it is we have done it earlier in the year and we know we have guys that can do it," defenseman Marc Staal told NHL.com, referring to the Rangers' hot start that remains a major reason why they even are still in the playoff race. "We know we're prepared. It's just a matter of doing it."

Rangers coach John Tortorella is trying to believe, too, but even he sounded a bit defeated after Wednesday's game when he was asked if his defense looks run down.

"Our defense is what our defense is. That's what we have," he said. "There is no more trading. This is our club and we have to figure it out on our own. You see us play some minutes that we're pretty good and we're within our foundation and our structure, then we lose ourselves. That's where I think we need to be better. We have to try to stay within our structure and be more consistent."

He's pointing his finger directly at top players like Gaborik, Olli Jokinen and Vinny Prospal. The trio was put together on the same line at the end of the Rangers' 2-1 overtime loss to Buffalo Sunday and stayed together for Wednesday's game.

They scored a nice goal early, but also got burned on one later in the first period and weren't really heard from again. They combined for just three shots over the final 40 minutes.

"They scored a great goal, but it can't be one and done," Tortorella said.

Tortorella is done waiting idly by for players like Gaborik to get going again. With only 15 games left in a season that still can go either way, he simply doesn't have the time, so he's decided he'll forget about the name on the jersey and just go with the hot hand.

For instance, Erik Christensen, a waiver pick-up from Anaheim in early December, played 14:05 Wednesday and scored a pretty goal. And that was the least amount of ice time he's had in the last 10 games, a span in which he's been one of the Rangers' best forwards.

"You get into situations where you allow someone to work themselves out of it, but that's awful hard to do right now with such short strokes here," Tortorella said. "We'll make mistakes along the way, but we're going to look at a guy and say, 'He's going, so we're going to give him an opportunity there.'

"It's not to run anybody else down, but you have to try to go with the guys that are coming through in those situations. You just can't wait and wait and wait. You have to hope someone is going and get him on the ice. We're in a jam. We're on the outside looking in and we have to try to get some points."

"It's not to run anybody else down, but you have to try to go with the guys that are coming through in those situations. You just can't wait and wait and wait. You have to hope someone is going and get him on the ice. We're in a jam. We're on the outside looking in and we have to try to get some points."
-- John Tortorella

It's a cliché, but the Rangers can consider themselves in their own playoff world right now. Of the 15 regular-season games they have left, 10 are against teams that are ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings or within striking distance of them.

They play in Atlanta Friday, and the Thrashers are just one point behind the Rangers. New York plays Philadelphia three times, including a home-and-home to close the season. The Flyers are seven points ahead of the Rangers with two games in hand.

Montreal comes to Madison Square Garden Tuesday, and right now the Canadiens sit seventh in the East, five points ahead of the Rangers. Boston is on the schedule for March 21.

"I have started to (look at the standings) now," Staal said. "With 15 games left, we see Philly, Montreal, Boston and want those teams to lose. But we have to win as many games as we can. We have to think those teams aren't going to lose many, so we can't, either."

There is no evidence to suggest the Rangers will streak to the finish line, but they believe they can. Maybe that'll be enough to turn this thing in the right direction.

"There is pressure, but if we're going to succeed in this here you can't be afraid of what is in front of you; you need to try to embrace it and accept the challenge," Tortorella said. "We're still right there and we can control this."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl.

I didn't think it would actually work, but it ended up working, so I'm thanking my lucky stars tonight.

— Columbus forward Nick Foligno on scoring the overtime goal after telling the Blue Jackets in the locker room that he would win the game