The Rangers return to Madison Square Garden tonight with a 2-0 series lead and the chance to put a stranglehold on the #2 seeded Washington Capitals. While there is little doubt that Henrik Lundqvist is the main reason for the last two victories, key shot-blocking and puck retrieval were also responsible for stifling the Capitals’ high powered offense.
Normally I would be prepared for the dreaded let-down game…but not this time. I believe in Lundqvist. I believe in the veteran leadership exhibited by players that have been here before and know what it’s like to grind through the rigors of playoff hockey: Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Markus Naslund, Wade Redden, and Sean Avery (knock him all you want, this is a guy that played an entire playoff game with a ruptured spleen). I believe in the healthy mix of youthful energy from players like Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Nik Antropov and Lauri Korpikoski.
But most of all, I believe in John Tortorella.
Torts knows that it takes to win. He carried a Tampa Bay Lightning squad through two grueling 7-game series’ to win the Stanley Cup, but not before he famously convinced Vincent Lecavalier to buy into his transition system that hinges on aggressive play in the neutral zone and puck possession all over the ice.
He’s shown that he can prepare a #7 seed to walk into one of the loudest buildings in the National Hockey League and take 2 games. Mental preparation is key and without the proper attitude, it’s easy to get lost in the frenetic pace of the NHL playoffs.
Tonight the Garden will be rocking like nothing the Rangers players have ever heard before. The hockey world counted us out before this series and now it’s time to show everyone they were wrong. I know one thing, though: Tortorella always believed.
It’s pretty clear he’s got his team believing too.