SAN JOSE, Calif. -- In marinas southwest of this city where the Rangers practiced Friday, waves from the tsunami caused by the earthquake in Japan were knocking boats from their moorings. So with the Rangers battling hard and focused on earning a playoff spot, that should put things in perspective nicely.
Host Washington beat Carolina, 2-1, Friday night to keep the Rangers in the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference. Had the Hurricanes won, they would have knocked the Rangers into ninth, on the outside looking in for the first time since October. But no matter the final score, coach John Tortorella and several players noted that the standings are shifting daily, and with a month to go in the season, there is no reason to doubt themselves.
Still, on Feb. 2, the Rangers were in sixth place and seven points clear of ninth place. "Sure, it felt different when we were [higher in the standings] then," said goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who will start Saturday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks (39-22-7, 18-11-4 at home). "But in the last two weeks, it hasn't felt like we were really safe when we were ahead by three or four, especially with [Carolina and Buffalo] having games in hand. So your mind-set doesn't change with the standings. You just worry about your game -- and winning."
The possibility of waking up Saturday in ninth place, Brandon Dubinsky said before Friday night's games, shouldn't increase the pressure on the Rangers, who watched a video of their turnover-filled 5-2 loss to the Ducks Wednesday night in the first game of this two-game trip. "We can't go in there scared or be timid or think we're going to lose,'' he said. "We've beaten a lot of good teams. We understand what makes us a good team, the things we need to do."
Tortorella insisted that he is confident and declined to make comparisons to last season's team, which fell short of the playoffs.
"We knew it was going to be a dogfight and we're happy about being in it," he said. "This is a different team than last year, but we're in the same spot trying to get in. Some teams aren't. I've said it before: I like this hockey club. We've grinded together and bonded together. It's just a different feel. We've handled adversity, as far as all the injuries we've gone through; this should be a time that you really want to grab a hold of it and be part of it. We're not out of it. We're right in the middle of it."