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Tortorella wants Rangers stronger in front of own net

by Tal Pinchevsky /

Coming off a 4-3 loss Monday night against a Toronto Maple Leafs squad that has given teams trouble with its aggressive forecheck, New York Rangers coach John Tortorella on Wednesday stressed the importance of his team being stronger in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

"We need to defend better. Certainly around our net," Tortorella said before the rematch at Madison Square Garden. "Our D have moved away from our net. So we need to straighten that out."

That space was especially apparent on Phil Kessel's winning goal Monday night. After being stopped by Lundqvist on a move to his backhand, Kessel still had plenty of time at the side of the net to tuck in the rebound and give Toronto a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

That came two nights after the Rangers allowed 49 shots in a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Despite his team's defensive play of late, Tortorella made a point to praise the recent performances of veteran defenseman Anton Stalman.

"He has certainly stepped up in the past week where I thought prior to that he was going in the other direction," Tortorella said. "He is willing to take a hit. I like the way he handles himself. He's been pushed hard by this coaching staff."

If the Rangers defense does tighten up, it will have to be without Marc Staal for the time being. Staal hasn't played since taking a puck to the eye March 5, although he did skate with the team Wednesday. There is no immediate timetable for his return.

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