Good Evening
Good Evening

Rangers must keep their cool off ice

Brandon Prust of the New York Rangers punches

Brandon Prust of the New York Rangers punches Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 13, 2011. Credit: Getty Images

John Tortorella's message to the Rangers at the 5:06 mark of the first period Sunday, after a couple of breakdowns and a couple of bounces put them in a two-goal hole, was simple:

Don't panic.

That message carried the day in a 5-3 victory over the Penguins, a crucial two points that snapped an 0-5-1 slide and kept the Rangers ahead of the creeping pack below them in the Eastern Conference standings.

General manager Glen Sather gave the same message afterward, telling Newsday that even with the trade deadline two weeks away, this is no time to break up the young group that's going through some growing pains this season.

Don't panic.

"Every team has issues, every team has ebbs and flows," Sather said. "You can't start panicking about all the things that happen.

"I think we can compete [in the playoffs]. It doesn't mean we're going to do anything [at the deadline] or not do anything. The whole goal this season has been to keep these young guys going as well as they can, to create a team that takes some ownership in itself. It took us a while to get to that stage, but we're getting there."

Sather hasn't always been that philosophical. He spent much of the last decade looking for quick fix after quick fix, usually in free agency but occasionally at the trade deadline, especially in the pre-salary cap days when money was no object in acquiring the likes of Pavel Bure, Alex Kovalev and Tom Poti in the weeks and days leading up to the deadline.

In recent seasons, the names haven't been quite as marquee, but Sather did get Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust around this time in 2010, and Nik Antropov and Derek Morris in 2009.

Antropov helped the Rangers get to the playoffs, where they were bounced by the Caps. Prust has become an integral member of this hard-working team, but Jokinen's Rangers tenure is best remembered for his failed shootout attempt on the last day of the season.

Sather already has made one deal, shipping out Michal Rozsival for Wojtek Wolski last month. He has gotten shrewder, no doubt with the help of those around him.

Tortorella's message of going with youth goes out to the media and up the chain of command to Sather, who loves to talk to other GMs and hunt for players. It comes from Gordie Clark and Jeff Gorten, who have helped oversee the dramatic shift in drafting and nurturing prospects.

The Rangers are looking for more from their big-ticket free agent, Marian Gaborik, but Sunday's rally was fueled by homegrown talents Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Rookies Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello also chipped in. Gaborik did his part, too, but this is not a star-led squad anymore.

Sather spoke like a man who understands that, which means the names being bandied about on the rumor websites - Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Joni Pitkanen, Dennis Wideman - most likely are just that, rumors.

The Rangers may not be a Stanley Cup contender yet, but trading a high draft pick or a coveted prospect for a two-month rental won't change that.

For now, they are what everyone has seen. A team that wins when it works hard and doesn't when it breaks down or forgets what got it here.

Two weeks before the deadline, with precious few points separating the Rangers from a second straight season with no playoffs, the message is clear:

Don't panic.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Rangers, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

New York Sports