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Rangers coach John Tortorella says team can exhale -- briefly

John Tortorella claps during the second period of

John Tortorella claps during the second period of a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Feb. 2, 2013) Credit: AP

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - John Tortorella says it's time for his Rangers to take a moment and appreciate the 9-3-1 run that allowed them to -- finally -- clinch a playoff spot Thursday night against Carolina.

But only a moment.

"I think they need to step back just for a second or two and just say, 'We did what we wanted to do,' " he said after practice Friday. "It was a grind. But now let's get our last game and see if we can keep climbing."

"Climbing" was one phrase Tortorella used to describe the Rangers' nail-biter of a regular season. It ended with the team managing to "crawl" -- another telling descriptive term -- into the playoffs. But as he talked about the team's journey, he projected a confidence that the Rangers' sometimes mystifying struggles are a thing of the past.

"We've had a tremendous amount of expectations put on us," he said. "We've gone back and forth. But I think we've steadied ourselves and I think the team's gained confidence and has found themselves as a group to put this record forth. We're in, and hopefully it'll translate to doing the right things come playoff time."

Tortorella said he's not sure what he's going to do with his lineup for the Rangers' regular- season finale against the Devils on Saturday at Madison Square Garden and was undecided about whether to have Henrik Lundqvist in net.

The game has playoff implications. The Rangers are in eighth place, a point behind the Islanders with a game in hand. If the Rangers remain in eighth, they will face the top-seeded Penguins in the first round. They were 1-4 against Pittsburgh during the regular season. The Rangers could finish as high as sixth.

Tortorella wouldn't express a preference for an opponent.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "And I'm not too crazy on talking about the opponents, anyway. So we're going to let it play out. That's why I think tomorrow's game is very important for us to keep on playing good hockey, and to bring it right into the playoffs to where we need to be."

Notes & quotes: Forward Ryane Clowe did not practice Friday, a day after he left the victory over Carolina with an undisclosed injury. The Rangers recalled Kris Newbury from the AHL, but Tortorella wouldn't offer a timeline for Clowe's return. When asked if he had any idea about the severity of Clowe's injury, he simply said ''no.''

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