By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Rangers head coach John Tortorella knows exactly what it takes to get an NHL team all the way through the playoffs to the Stanley Cup. After all, he did it just five years ago in Tampa.
So when it comes to handling the Rangers players on a day-to-day basis in this postseason, Tortorella has a good sense of when to step on the gas and when to ease off it.
|John Tortorella won his first playoff Game 1 on the road as an NHL head coach on Wednesday night in Washington. Previous Game 1 wins had all come in home games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. |
One aspect of the “second season” that requires such management are the off-days in between games. Prior to Game 2 on Saturday afternoon in Washington, the Blueshirts have a pair of days off. The first was Thursday, and Tortorella was clear in terms of what he expected for his team in the first 24 hours after a rousing Game 1 victory that stunned the partisan Caps crowd.
On Thursday, at least, Tortorella wanted his players to spend as little time at the Verizon Center as possible.
“Get them out of the building today,” Tortorella said after a short, optional practice. “We just had a very short meeting and it was an optional on or off. It was their choice. We want them to get away and we’ll start again tomorrow (Friday).
"… I don’t want to overload them and have them thinking too much. Tomorrow’s a day for us to look at some things both for us and against us as far as Washington’s concerned, and then I’m glad we’re playing an afternoon game, because we don’t need to overload them with information.”
Tortorella said one of the biggest challenges that he and his assistant coaches, Jim Schoenfeld and Benoit Allaire, face over the playoff run will be the amount of talking they do relative to strategy. As he has noted often, his system works best when it is instinctive for the players to execute it.
“I think we’re doing our job as coaches to prepare them,” Tortorella said on Thursday. “I just don’t want to overprepare them to where they’re just stagnant on the ice.”
The strong start in winning Game 1 was a major step for the Rangers, who also won Game 1 on the road in New Jersey last year and in Atlanta in 2007. The Blueshirts went on to win those other two first-round series, sweeping the Thrashers and losing just one game to the Devils in the process.
In last year’s playoffs, five lower-seeded teams, including the Rangers, won the first game of a playoff series on the road. Four of those teams went on to with the series.
Tortorella also surely recognizes what the Game 1 victory can mean, since his 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning team won Game 1 in three of their four postseason series, not losing a Game 1 until the Stanley Cup Finals, where they ultimately dispensed Calgary in seven games – winning the last one by a one-goal margin at home.
“We need to play another game,” Tortorella said. “We won the first one, which is good. It’s always nice to win a game to start a series, but we need to just keep our wits about ourselves and continue to try to play, and wherever this falls, it falls. The most important part of (home ice) is Game 7. If it comes to Game 7, it’s Washington’s advantage.”
Asked Thursday if he was thought that the Rangers had “gotten into the Capitals’ heads” by surprising them in Game 1, Tortorella reiterated his desire to only attempt to manage his own players’ mindset.
“I’m not worried about their heads,” Tortorella said of the Washington players. “I’m worried about our heads. … We’re just worried about keeping our heads on straight.”