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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Rangers forge an identity - tough to play

Brian Boyle of the New York Rangers celebrates

Brian Boyle of the New York Rangers celebrates his third period empty net goal with his teammates Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky as members of the New York Islanders look on. (Dec. 3, 2010) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

If the Rangers can make the playoffs this season - still a big if with 54 games left, but not as big an if as it's been in recent seasons - they should petition the NHL to have as few days off as possible between games.

This team has forged an identity: tough on the puck, tough to get shots through, tough to play against. And very, very tough to beat on the second night of back-to-back games.

The 2-0 win over the Islanders in the Garden moved the Rangers to 7-0-0 on the second game of back-to-backs. It's a testament to the high level of conditioning John Tortorella requires of his players.

It's also a testament to the high level of forgetfulness for some of the shaky play from the previous night, especially this previous night, when the Rangers managed the ugliest 6-5 win imaginable with defensive breakdowns galore.

"[Thursday] night wasn't really our style," Dan Girardi said. "I thought we did a great job coming back to our old style, being really simple with our play. We didn't give them much, we blocked a lot of shots."

The Islanders, whose 14-game winless streak has morphed into a 1-13-3 slide with two very different kinds of losses to the Rangers, had just 17 shots on goal. They had maybe three good chances. The Rangers controlled the play for much of the second period and into the early part of the third, keeping the puck away from the Islanders and in the offensive zone.

The Rangers did that Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum in the opening period, but drifted, badly, away from a hard forecheck and into freewheeling. That they rescued the 6-5 win didn't take away from the deficiencies, and the quick turnaround to correct those errors Friday night shows that this can be a tough-minded team, as well.

"For me, the big play was Mike Sauer [in the second]," Tortorella said. "He makes a good play in our zone, the puck goes up the ice and he's there to make a smart play, to be patient and wait for Brian Boyle coming down for a good chance. It's defense that leads to offense."

That is how the Rangers must play. Not every opponent will be the frustrated, punchless Islanders, who are the only team in the league without a win when the opponent scores first (0-13-2). The Isles are also on an 0-for-32 power-play skid, with Jack Capuano threatening changes to that unit. "I'm not going to waste [time] with the same personnel," he said. "We've gone over this now."

Capuano doesn't have much to work with. Tortorella's team isn't the most powerful lineup, either. They have had it repeated to them over and over since Tortorella arrived that talent alone won't sustain them, and nights like Thursday's wide-open affair are an even stronger lesson that the Rangers can't afford to open it up.

"We gave them chances the other night," Marc Staal said. "It doesn't matter who you're playing. You give a team enough quality chances, they'll score some goals."

In the space of 24 hours, the Rangers took charge of themselves and produced a better kind of win.

Even if they can't get a best-of-seven series that goes seven consecutive days in April, there will still be a few back-to-backs. And the Rangers are showing they have the toughness a team needs to come back the next day and do it right.


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