New York Rangers Coach John Tortorella has gone on record in the past with his assertion that home ice only matters in the NHL playoffs during a Game 7.
But with the Rangers facing that scenario tonight in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Capitals, Tortorella added a caveat to that statement before a sparsely attended optional skate at Verizon Center Monday.
“I think there’s an advantage to the home team, but quite honestly, we’re the visiting team and we really don’t care,” said Tortorella, who was noticeably upbeat and even joked with a reporter that he hadn’t been reading anybody’s coverage this postseason.
The numbers suggest history is not on New York’s side. The Rangers are 0-5 all-time on the road in Game 7, including a loss to Washington back in 2009 after a third-period goal by former Capitals forward Sergei Fedorov. New York has also lost 10 of its past 11 playoff games at Verizon Center, a streak that dates to 2009.
But the Rangers have the memory of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals, when they defeated the Capitals in a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. Washington is 3-8 all-time in Game 7, with a 2-6 mark at home. This will be the first time two NHL teams have played Game 7 in back-to-back years since Colorado and Los Angeles did so in 2000 and 2001
“We haven’t had the success here we wanted to, but it doesn’t really matter now. It’s 3-3 and we play it anyway. It’s us vs. them,” center Brian Boyle said. “We’re trying to win a game now. That’s all that matters.”
Center Derek Brassard, who leads New York with seven points and scored the lone goal during Game 6, said the mood Monday was loose, with the team’s captains leading that charge. Center Brad Richards was the only notable skater on the ice after getting demoted to New York’s fourth line Sunday.
Tortorella is hopeful Game 7 will be a breakthrough moment for some of his top end players. Richards, wing Rich Nash and captain Ryan Callahan have combined for just one goal and three assists through six games. Combined with New York’s anemic power play this series (2 for 26) – “Obviously it’s not the percentage you guys or people think you want, but we’re aware of that,” Boyle noted – a popular topic of discussion has continued to surround the lack of offense.
But Tortorella turned that critique into praise for his team’s defense and goaltending this series.
“You guys give me a lot of [stuff] about, ‘We’ve only scored 11 goals.’ They’ve only scored 12, so I think we’ve done a pretty good job there,” Tortorella said. “Here we are in Game 7, I think a few of our guys are due. I’m sure they’re saying the same thing over on their side.”
Mostly, though, the Rangers just want to drop the puck, despite the short turnaround of playing two games in a little more than 24 hours. Another Game 7 is here, and both New York and Washington are well aware of the implications at this point.
“Are there nerves going into Game 7,” forward Chris Kreider said through his own laughter. “Yes. Everyone’s excited. You dream of playing in these kind of big games.”