Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.


As the Rangers' postseason run continues -- it's more of a jog, given that the Eastern Conference finals looks an awful lot like the Rangers' first two series, both seven-game grinds -- it appears that John Tortorella's words from the first day of training camp way back in September have sustained this team as the games get tighter and a Stanley Cup remains within reach.

"He just told us that first day we were all together that there are going to be a lot of distractions this year," Michael Del Zotto said. "We started talking that first day about just focusing on ourselves and what we had to do. It's the only thing we're about."

Back then, Tortorella only knew what his team had to deal with immediately: A season-opening trip to Europe, the first seven games of the season away from home while Madison Square Garden finished the first stage of its renovation, and HBO's cameras everywhere in preparation for the Winter Classic in Philadelphia on Jan. 2.

Those seem like quaint distractions now. The Rangers have won a pair of Game Sevens and have traded wins and losses for the last nine playoff games, heading into Saturday's Game 3 against the Devils in Newark.

But the belief in their team concept, and in the coach who has preached it, is certainly helping them now. The Rangers have recovered from tough losses as if they never happened, they've figured out how to stay calm in the face of amped-up opponents, and anything else that's come up.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Plenty of attention has been paid to Tortorella and his off-ice demeanor. There have been two separate fines totaling $50,000 this season, starting with a $30,000 assessment for comments about the curious officiating calls at the end of the Winter Classic. He also ponied up $20,000 for critical postgame comments about the league after an April 6 Penguins game.

It may seem hypocritical to some that the coach who preaches focus and dedication can turn the spotlight on himself at times. But if the few Rangers interested in turning on sports highlights after a rough loss see their coach being lambasted for his comments (or lack thereof) rather than their own play being dissected, that would seem to be a pretty calculated move to take the heat off the team.

Tortorella has no concerns about his team's ability to shrug things off. He hasn't since that first day in September.

"I don't worry about that at all," he said on Friday. "We're good. We've been good."

"We've grown as a group," Brian Boyle said. "We were focused from the start, but I think we've gotten even better at it as things have gone on."

Their lack of offense during the long haul of the postseason has been a problem. The Devils' forecheck gave them fits for long stretches of the first two games. But the Rangers feel confident.

Considering all they've gone through this season, did you think they'd be anything but confident?