When the Washington Capitals opened the 2009 playoffs with a first-round series against the New York Rangers, they did so as the second seed. Yet the Rangers won the first two games at Verizon Center, and though the Capitals forced a Game 5 by winning one of two in New York, the Rangers returned to Washington needing only to win once in the next three games to advance.
In that pivotal fifth game, though, Rangers Coach John Tortorella responded to some heckling Capitals fans by spraying them with water, throwing a water bottle into the stands and then grabbing one of his players’ sticks, raising it against the glass. Tortorella defiantly refused to address the incident after the Capitals’ 4-0 win – “Ask me a question about the game,” he said. “That’s nothing – has nothing to do with tonight” – but he was suspended by the NHL for Game 6. The Capitals beat the Rangers 5-3, then returned home to take a 2-1 victory in Game 7.
Wednesday, as the Rangers went through their morning skate before Game 1, Tortorella was asked what role his suspension played in determining the outcome of that series.
“I’m not going back there,” Tortorella said. “I’m so focused on just today. We’re going to worry about that. I knew somewhere along the way that question was going to come up, so we’ll just put an end to it. I’m not going to – there’s no sense of it.”
Among the other things Tortorella believes don’t matter: The fact that the Rangers beat the Capitals by 7-0 and 6-0 scores this year in two of their five games.
“It doesn’t matter what the scores were,” Tortorella said. “I don’t care if they spanked us 6-0, 7-0. We’re not going to cower. We respect this hockey club. By no means do we fear them.”
The Rangers also don’t fear playing on the road. They accumulated more points on the road (49, by going 24-16-1) than they did at home (44, by going 20-17-4) during the regular season.
“We don’t care where we’re at right now,” Tortorella said. “We don’t care where we’re playing. We’re good. We’re good with our mindset. We’re good in our skin, and we just want to play. We need to play.”