For a team that just missed a golden opportunity to steal a playoff game, the New York Rangers seemed like a very confident group after practice this afternoon.
Several players and Coach John Tortorella said they didn’t feel like they played their best in Game 1 Wednesday night. “Play better” and “win more battles” were popular catchphrases in the visiting locker room at Verizon Center.
The underdog Rangers clearly believe they are good enough to compete in this series, and they think it’s up to them to raise their level of play to get back in it.
“We can play better,” veteran defenseman Bryan McCabe said. “We need a little more urgency in our game and [to be] a little quicker. There’s lots of room for improvement.”
The scoring-challenged Rangers know their best chance to upset the Caps is through their goaltending and their defense, and for most of Game 1 they played well enough to give themselves a chance to win.
Tortorella emphasized again Thursday the need for the Rangers to generate more scoring chances, but despite holding the Caps to just two goals Wednesday, a more consistent effort on defense is really the key.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh said the Rangers were at their best defensively in the third period and in overtime Wednesday even though that’s when they allowed the Caps’ two goals, and the focus for Game 2 will be clamping down from the opening faceoff.
“We didn’t play our best hockey of the game until the third period. You can’t afford to do that in the playoffs,” McDonagh said. “We were fortunate enough that [Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist] made some huge saves early or it could have gotten out of hand. We need to make sure we come out with that same effort right from the get-go tomorrow.”
McDonagh is one of several Rangers getting their first playoff experience, and Tortorella expects his younger players to get better as the series goes along.
The Caps may have breathed a brief sigh of relief after last night’s win, but the Rangers are out to prove there is a lot of hockey left to be played.
“I’m not worried about the team,” Tortorella said. “It’s a series. We’re down 1-0.
Certain parts of the game we played really well, other parts of the game there was a little bit of a struggle, just like they could probably say that too. They made a big play at the end of the game, and they made a couple more big plays than we did. It’s not adversity. It’s finding a way to be better for longer in a game.”