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Rangers insist they haven't played their best yet

by Dan Rosen
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers coach John Tortorella was not willing to discuss the lineup he'll use for Game 5 Friday night in Washington (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS) because either he doesn't know yet, or he doesn't want to give any information away.

But he knew the question about Sean Avery was coming on Thursday after the agitating left wing twice put the Rangers in a really tough spot in the final 10 minutes of Game 4 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

"I know that question is going to come up," Tortorella said after Thursday's short practice, "but our lineup will be our lineup when we play the game (Friday)."

Avery was called for roughing Capitals' defenseman Milan Jurcina, a penalty Tortorella yelled at the officials about, 10:21 into the third period. Less than seven minutes later he was called for high-sticking Brian Pothier, but this time a clearly disgusted Tortorella looked perplexed and angry at Avery.

The Rangers killed both penalties to preserve a 2-1 victory, which gave them a 3-1 lead in the series. They have a chance to close out the Capitals at Verizon Center Friday night. If they do, the Rangers will play the Boston Bruins in the next round.

"If we keep on flirting with the discipline problems we'll lose, and not just one game; momentum changes," Tortorella said. "We've been flirting with that all series long and a big part of our situation (Wednesday) night is I thought our penalty killing was just outstanding along with some great goaltending at key times. But you cannot keep going to the well like that with the lack of discipline we have shown at times and expect to continue to be in the series. We've gone there too many times."

Even Avery's discipline problems haven't detracted from the good feeling around the Rangers right now. Right wing Ryan Callahan told this is the most confident the team has been all season long.

"Everybody in the room knows we can win games and everybody in the room is confident in the way they're playing and the way we're playing," Callahan said. "I'd say probably this is the most confident we've been all year."

Goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has clearly been the star of the series with 141 saves against 149 shots in four games, said the Rangers were as confident in themselves early in the season when they went 10-2-1 in October. The difference now is the stakes are higher and the team is finding a way to win despite clearly being outplayed at times.

"The battle level is higher now and we are playing better as a team," Lundqvist told "Early on in the season we played really well, at a high level, but in this series I still believe we can play a little bit better. We've got it done and that's all that matters."

It's not as if the team leading the series 3-1 actually needs motivation, but the Rangers are excited because they know they haven't played their best game in the series so far.

The first period Wednesday night was their best period of the series, but the Caps' outshot the Rangers, 30-10, in the final 40 minutes. New York was outplayed for roughly all 60 minutes in Game 3, and was just good enough to win Games 1 and 2 in Washington.

"You realize we have been lucky, too," Lundqvist said. "They have been tight games and we have made a couple of plays at key times and also they've hit some posts. It's good to know we can play better, but you also realize you had some luck along the way."

The Capitals rang the iron twice for sure Wednesday night, a hard shot by Sergei Fedorov in the first period and an even harder shot by Alex Ovechkin in the third that might have even dented the post.

"Yeah, but you need it," Lundqvist said about that kind of luck. "You need it, especially against that team. You're going to need a couple of lucky bounces to beat them."

The Rangers will need only a few more to close them out.

"No, I don't think we have played our best all around game yet," Callahan said, "but right now we're doing the job to get the wins."

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