A season that began with Stanley Cup aspirations ended five games into a second-round series.
And while the knee-jerk reaction both inside and outside the organization might be to call the 2013 campaign a setback, head coach John Tortorella does not agree.
“I don’t buy it,” Tortorella said. “I don’t buy it. I won’t. There is some good things that happened. ”
During his final press conference of the season, Tortorella pointed to a number of reasons why the organization should feel good about the future.
“We played really well our last couple months [of the regular season] to get in [the playoffs]. [We] found a way to win a big series against Washington, and against Boston I thought we competed right to the end,” Tortorella said.
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He also pointed to the play of Derek Brassard in Game 4 of the Bruins series, and John Moore’s play following the Apr. 3 trade deadline deal.
“I don’t think we took a step backwards,” Tortorella said. “I think this is a sideways step.”
During the series against Boston, Tortorella cryptically hinted about adjustments needing to be made off the ice.
He clarified his viewpoint on Monday.
“I think one of the things, and it falls on my shoulders, is our team’s mindset going into another round, after both teams played an emotional Game 7 — Boston and the Rangers. I don’t think our mindset was ready for another series, and to the level you need to be at,” Tortorella said.
“That’s where I struggle with right now. I didn’t do a good enough job correcting and getting their mindset back to not only play at the level of Game 7 in the first round but get ready for round two, which is always going to be tougher.”
Why did the mindset level off between the first and second rounds?
“[I think] it’s an emotional thing,” Tortorella said. “You win the last two games of a first-round series, you play an emotional Game 7, you win it and within a couple days, you’re playing another series. It’s not a Game 7, it’s a Game 1. That’s what I’m talking about. I thought we did enough but as I watched us play, it wasn’t enough. As I told you all, the biggest part of my job is that — how you handle your top players to get them to play and that falls on my shoulders.”
To a man, the players who are free agents this summer spoke emphatically about wanting to return.
“I want to be here for sure,” Derek Stepan said. “They’ve treated me so nicely.”
Defensemen Marc Staal and Anton Stralman offered diagnoses of the injuries they suffered. Staal said he had a tear in the eye that was struck by a Kimmo Timonen shot and it forced him to “constantly” change “medications and eye drops.” He added the seriousness of the injury will force him to have to wear a visor in order “to protect the other eye.”
Stralman suffered facial fractures and a separated shoulder due to a Milan Lucic hit in Game 3. The defenseman said “the shoulder kept” him “out.” Had he received clearance to play, he would have had to wear a full-face shield.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.