It wasn’t just a coach’s desire, it was an organizational necessity.
When John Tortorella ranted about his team’s status after Game 82, when the Rangers were in limbo over making the playoffs, he did so because it was critical for his Rangers to advance into the post-season to further his young players’ development.
“I’m not going to name names, but I’ve had two or three guys say, ‘I don’t know why I struggled in the playoffs.’ There’s no answer. Because I can tell they’re beating themselves up,” Tortorella said of conversations he had during Monday’s break up day. “There’s not an answer until you get into another playoff series and you’re successful and you’ve gone through some experiences and then you play another round, maybe two, and you find your way. That’s when you realize how different it is, as far as whether it be uptight or just overwhelming, because I think a couple of guys were overwhelmed with it. But they wouldn’t understand being overwhelmed and how to learn from it until they get the opportunity.”
“You can never get enough experiences,” said winger Brandon Dubinsky. “I remember my first year in the playoffs, next time around when we came back, I felt more comfortable. Hopefully that’s the way these guys feel next year when we get another crack at it.”
Experience, for any athlete, is one of their most important crutches. For the Rangers, the belief that they played with the Capitals in nearly every game of their five-game conference quarterfinal defeat will provide both confidence, and a very bitter taste — both for the guys who had previous postseason experience, and for the six skaters who had never played in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I still have a sour taste in my mouth about the way the playoffs ended, and the way we played. This team was good enough to – obviously we’re still growing, and we’re excited about the way we are going in, not to take that away from us, but throughout the year we showed we were capable of beating the best teams,” Dubinsky said. “Every time we played against the best teams, we seemed to elevate our game and played really well against them. Either we’d win, we’d be right there, or in that vicinity. It was the games we played against teams that were below us that we didn’t seem to play our best in. So, that’s why I’m not really satisfied with where we ended up. I felt like we were capable of doing more.”
“We’re doing it the right way. Like I said to you before, and I jumped the gun after our last [regular season] game, I know we’re doing it the right way. But I don’t have a crystal ball,” Tortorella said, also acknowledging Rangers’ GM Glen Sather will look to improve the team during the offseason. “You need to stay with it, though, and not get impatient with it when it isn’t working right away, because it does take time.”
“This was a great year for me as far as developing, first and foremost as a person, learning how to be a professional in a sport that you love to play, learning to get accustomed to a pro atmosphere with veteran guys, and what it takes to be successful at this level,” said rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who emerged as a solid second-pair defenseman after an early-January call up. “I learned a lot, it was a fun ride. I’m glad the New York Rangers gave me the opportunity.”
But now that this long first season is over for those Baby Blueshirts, it’s time for rest and recuperation from a difficult, challenging, and painful season. Especially for rookie center Derek Stepan, who played 87 games during the regular season and playoffs.
“That’s [more than] what I played in two years of college,” said Stepan, who only played 81 games in two seasons at the University of Wisconsin. “It’s a long season, and it’s good to get the first one under my belt. Experience is the biggest thing. Having that first year underneath your belt will definitely help you in the next year.”
Brandon Dubinsky, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1, said he wants to return. He believes the feeling is mutual.
“I’d like to get it done as quickly as possible,” Dubinsky said of his upcoming contract negotiation. “I think the Rangers want me, and I want the Rangers, so at the end of the day, we might as well not waste each other’s time.”
Two years ago, Dubinsky, a restricted free agent in 2009, held out from training camp due to a contract dispute.
None of the banged-up Rangers – Martin Biron (collarbone), Dan Girardi (finger dislocation and ankle), Ryan Callahan (broken ankle), Marc Staal (knee), Vinny Prospal (knee), Chris Drury (knee), and Brandon Prust (body pain), said it would take more than three weeks of rest to get themselves healthy. Each of them expects to be able to resume their normal offseason training programs within that timeframe.
“It was pretty tough, but it’s that time of year when you need everyone playing, and everyone playing hard,” Girardi said of playing through his myriad injuries. “You just have to suck it up and get out there, and battle through whatever you have. Everyone’s nicked up here and there. It’s just a thing you have to do this time of year.”
With reporting from WFAN’s Chris Lopresti in Greenburgh.