John Tortorella Deals with the Pressure as the Rangers Open the Playoffs Against an Ottawa Team That Had Their Number This Season

April 12, 2012 – 5:00 am by Brad Gagnon

For the first time since they they won the Stanley Cup in 1993-94, the New York Rangers enter the playoffs as Atlantic Division champions. But as a result, there’s a lot of pressure in Manhattan. The Rangers haven’t won a playoff series since before the 2008 arrival of head coach John Tortorella, and Torts himself hasn’t gotten past the first round since he took the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Cup in 2003-04.

And if that wasn’t enough, they’ll have to face an opponent — the Ottawa Senators — that has won five straight games against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden and took three out of their four meetings during the regular season.

John Tortorella joined Michael Kay on ESPN Radio in New York to discuss his team’s first-round series with Ottawa, which starts tonight in New York. He touched on how he’s preparing the youngsters, his team’s inability to wrap up the Presidents’ Trophy, what he plans to do with phenom Chris Kreider, the team’s struggles against the Senators, and whether the squad feels added pressure as a top seed.

On what he tells he players who have never experienced playoff hockey to prepare them for Thursday’s game:

“Nothing. I don’t even want them to think that it’s playoffs. I think ignorance and innocence is a good thing come playoff time. And I fall back onto Tampa when we won the Stanley Cup there — we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We just were playing, and we didn’t feel anything as far as added pressure. And I really do, I believe innocence is a really — it’s a positive thing for a team at the start.”

On if he’s disappointed they fell just short of finishing with the league’s best record and capturing the Presidents’ Trophy:

“You know what? I was disappointed for the players. Before the game we put a checklist up. We checked off the division, we got that done. We checked off the conference. We got that done. There were two other checks. One is the Presidents’ Trophy and the other one obviously is the big one here, the Stanley Cup. I wanted it for them. To me, we were going to be the No. 1 seed. You win it, and I can’t even look into the Western Conference as far as playoffs. My mind can’t wrap around that yet. So I was disappointed for them, but you can’t lose yourself over it. This team has played hard and played really well consistently for really a great portion of the year.”

On 2009 first-round pick Chris Kreider, whom the team signed just this week:

“I have no idea. … The boys welcomed him in. He’s going to have a very bright future. When that starts? I don’t have any idea. I’m not looking to make any change right now. As you go through a series, you never know where it goes. So I’m just gonna let that play itself out. He practiced very well. You see his size, you see his skill and you see his speed. It excites me, but you gotta be really careful, this is a really tough spot for him, coming right out of college, coming into a conference-leading team. He doesn’t wanna screw things up with the players. I think our players understand that. So he’s just gonna join us, practice with us and we’ll see where we go.”

On the Senators’ recent success against the Rangers, especially at Madison Square Garden:

“Well, to be honest with you, Don, I think a couple of games this year we played them (well) — other than for a couple of minutes and a couple of big plays we may win a game or two more. I’m not gonna put too much stock into what’s happened. They’re a good club. Anybody that makes it into the playoffs in the National Hockey League, it’s not an easy thing to do. So they’re going to be a good team. A little bit similar to us, where they have some veteran guys who have been there, and they have some really young guys. And they’re a talented team, their goaltending has been good. No matter who you play, it’s going to be tough. So I’m not gonna look too far into the regular season and what happened there.”

On if he and the team feel more pressure now that they’re a No. 1 seed:

“No, but myself personally, I always feel pressure. I think we should win all 82. I do. I beat my head against the wall when we lose a game, and so I have high expectations anyway. … As a coach you need to be really careful with each individual, how much pressure you put on them in these type of situations. Because you could hurt them, and it’s not gonna help the team. So we still — we won our conference — but we’re still a pretty young hockey club, still trying to find our way as far as all the things of being pros and being there. I just like the way we play as a team. And it’s not easy to do sometimes with the egos and personalities, to play as a team — this team has done that and I just like the way we’ve handled ourselves. So I’m not gonna feel any extra pressure, because there’s enough pressure on us anyway as you enter.”

On if he thinks his team is ready to win the Stanley Cup:

“I’m not telling ya. I told you I’d never answer that question. I’d be an idiot as a coach to answer that question.”

Listen to John Tortorella on ESPN Radio New York here

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