“We just have to go about our business. I had my owner up here talking about a Stanley Cup. That’s a bunch of bull—-,” Tortorella told reporters. “We’re just going about — we need to take one day at a time, and that will help us.”
Of course, Tortorella was doing his job, keeping his team focused while tempering expectations. However, there’s no denying that those expectations were high and for good reason.
They’re even higher now, as the Rangers get ready to open a shortened season on Saturday night in Boston on a short list of Stanley Cup contenders.
The Rangers themselves know it, too.
“Playing here in New York, you always have to do deal with pressure and expectations,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist told reporters, according to ESPN.com. “But you can still feel this year is a little special, coming from last year, and the fans are really excited.”
That excitement can be felt from the top of the organization. Dolan reportedly started to get antsy in December and was thought to be one of the owners hoping to put an end to the lockout. That would make sense, too, with Dolan understanding the fact that he had so much to gain — both on the ice and therefore on the bottom line — by actually playing out the season.
How’s that for expectations? He’s not alone, though. Fans and pundits alike are expecting big things out of a Rangers team that was good last year and could be even better this year.
“I think that will be one of our challenges — how to handle expectations from the outside, but also the pressure we’re gonna put on ourselves,” Lundqvist added. “Last year was a lot of fun, we won a lot, and I keep saying this, but we have to remember why we had success. We were working really hard every night, and even though we have some talented skill players, I think our biggest reason for success last year was the hard work. That has to continue.”
One of the biggest reasons for the lofty expectations — in addition to last year’s 109-point, first-place finish — is the fact that the Rangers went out and finally added Rick Nash to an already stacked roster.
Nash received exile from Columbus for a package of players that won’t be missed too much. New York gave up three “nice” players and a first-round pick, but it’s nothing they can’t live without. The return, a sniper who averages 32 goals per season, is more than worth it.
But with such an addition, comes those same expectations that players like Lundqvist and Nash himself are embracing.
“This is what I dream of,” Nash said on The Michael Kay Show. “This is what I think NHL hockey is — playing in an Original Six market, playing in a sold-out building every night. Growing up in Toronto, this is what hockey feels like.”
He says he’s not really feeling the pressure, either.
“I’ve felt pressure through my whole career, being a high draft pick, playing in a city [Columbus] where they depend on making the playoffs to sell tickets, and they depend on winning to play their players and for their owner to make money.”
Nash also said that playing in the Olympics and World Championships for Canada will also help him with the pressure.
It’s the right thing to say, sure, but it’s a bit naive to think that he’s ever felt pressure like this. For many, Nash was the missing piece. He’s supposed to put New York over the top.
He has played a grand total of four NHL playoffs games. Four. Comparing the pressure he’ll feel in the playoffs as a Ranger to anything even remotely resembling the “pressure” he felt in Columbus is laughable.
Still, the Rangers do appear to have all the parts to win it all.
They’ve got depth down the middle with the likes of Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Brian Boyle and they’ve got almost as much depth on the wings. They have two terrific defensive pairings, which are playing right in front of Lundqvist. They also have a head coach in Tortorella who has won it all before.
If this team stays healthy, there are no excuses. The Rangers are a team built to win and win now.
Tortorella will never admit as much. Expectations are high this year, though, and even the boisterous bench boss probably knows deep down that anything less than a Stanley Cup parade down the Canyon of Heroes will be disappointing.
Tune in to NESN on Saturday, Jan. 19, at 5:30 p.m. ET for complete coverage of the Bruins’ season-opening game against the Rangers.
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