Steve Zipay takes you inside the locker room, home and on the road, with the New York Rangers, and also writes about the NHL, off and on the ice.
Playoff experience: What's it worth
Rangers left winger Ruslan Fedotenko celebrates his second-period goal against the Washington Capitals. (Nov. 25, 2011) (Credit: AP)
Just how much does playoff experience count?
That was a major topic of discussion before the first game of the Rangers-Senators Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series tonight at Madison Square Garden. Game 2 in the first-ever series between the two clubs is Saturday night.
“I think you need a mix,” said Daniel Alfredsson, 39, the Senators’ all-time leader in playoff games played with 107. “The young guys have the enthusiasm, so you step up your game. And the veterans take a lot of pressure off them.”
Besides Alfredsson, five Senators have more than 40 games of playoff experience: Sergei Gonchar, 118, Chris Phillips, 97, Chris Neil 74, Jason Spezza, 46 and Milan Michalek 40. Goaltender Craig Anderson, who is 6-0 in the regular season at the Garden in his career, has only six playoff appearances.
For the No. 1 seed Rangers, Ruslan Fedotenko has the most post-season games under this belt with 88. Only five other Rangers have more than 30: Brad Richards, 63, Mike Rupp, 43, Henrik Lundqvist 35, Marian Gaborik, 34 and Dan Girardi, 32.
“One of the biggest things with the experience of going through this is just the scrutiny you have to deal with, the stuff between games, how you handle yourself,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “When we get into this type of scenario, players are going to lean on (Richards, a Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP in Tampa in 2004) quite a bit as far as what we go through, because he’s been there.”
Tortorella expects Fedotenko and also Rupp, who was acquired, like Richards, in the off-season, to calm any ripples in the locker room.
“I won’t have to direct them to help out,” Tortorella said. “I think a coach can get in the way in directing them to this that and the other thing. This is the players’ deal. They know what’s going on in that room. In certain situations, the coaches don’t know. I feel very comfortable in allowing them to take care of their business.”
Ottawa’s bench boss, Paul MacLean, who is s entering his first NHL playoff series as a head coach, also appreciates the role leaders play.
“We have a number of guys who have been to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007,” said MacLean, “Sergei Gonchar was in the Final in 2008 and 2009, won and lost. They understand the rigors of the playoffs and what tonight means.”
Some players also won the AHL’s Calder Cup last year. “I think experience is a great thing to have this time of year; I know it’s American League experience, but it’s the next best thing,” MacLean said. “They are not brand new…I think they might have a little easier adjustment period.”
The last playoff series that the Rangers opened at home was the East quarterfinal against the Canadiens in 1996, and advanced; they have won seven of the last 10 first-round series. Losing the opener has not been fatal. The Rangers lost Game One in each of their last three series in which they had home-ice advantage, all in overtime, in 1994 against the Devils and Canucks, and in 1996, but won each series.
The No 8 seed Senators, were 41-31-10 for 92 points and won three of the four games this season. On Oct. 29, Ottawa rallied to win, 5-4 in a shootout. On Nov. 9, the Blueshirts prevailed in Ottawa, 3-2 on Marian Gaborik’s game-winner. On Jan. 12, Anderson blanked the Rangers 3-0 here and on March 8, with backups Martin Biron and Ben Bishop in net, the Senators won 4-1.
It’s a different stage now.
“Both teams have been practicing for three days. They’re sick of practice, sick of listening to the coaches, and we’re sick of them sometimes,” Tortorella said. “It’s not about mapping it out all the time for them, all the Xs and Os. It’s about big plays at key times and handling your emotions. I stopped (Wednesday’s) practice early because I think they’re ready to play.”
, John Tortorella
, Paul MacLean
, Daniel Alfredsson
, Ruslan Fedotenko