John Tortorella presented a much more laid-back, non-confrontational persona during this morning's presser, no doubt because that's the sense he wants to pass along to his players. They can't be tight in this spot, they need to be loose and just play hockey.
There are few guys on this roster who have played in a Game 7 at the NHL level - Aaron Voros recalled playing in one in juniors. Scott Gomez has. Chris Drury has. Wade Redden has. That's what I've got so far but if I've missed anybody else, it's not an extensive list, maybe Markus Naslund and Michal Rozsival. I'll try to do some research.
"Game 7s you can get yourself so wrapped up and say, 'Oh, crap, this is Game 7!" Tortorella said. "And you go out and get paralyzed. Where it is a game of mistakes and both teams are going to make them. You need to allow yourself to play in this situation and not paralyze yourself. Some guys can do it and some guys can't. Some guys get so uptight they do paralyze themselves and they're not going to be a factor in the game. Other guys look at this as an opportunity and allow themselves to play and just free themselves."
The trick for Tortorella will be determining, really quickly, which players he can count on tonight.
"I think we'll have a pretty good idea, yeah," Tortorella said. "We want to win a game. We have to hopefully make the right decisions as far as who is going and we're going to go with those guys who we feel we have a chance with. We don't have much time left here. We have 60 minutes. Everybody is going to get an opportunity early on here and we're going to make the decisions from there."
For instance, yesterday I had a good chat with Marc Staal about playing in Game 7 and that knot that develops in the stomach. Staal said he couldn't wait, that he was up for the challenge and thrilled to get it.
"Innocence is a great thing," Tortorella said when I relayed that. "It is. I was fortunate to be involved with it (in Tampa Bay) and we didn't have a clue what we were doing. Because we didn't have the clue about the pressure. And that's what I hope helps our team here. I don't think our team feels the pressure. We've got some young guys that haven't been involved in these types of situations."
For instance, Nikolai Zherdev, who is playing poorly in his first playoffs, scoreless and a minus-3 with a bad turnover and missed open net that contributed to the Rangers 5-3 loss in Game 6.
"He's going to get an opportunity," Tortorella said of Zherdev possibly redeeming himself tonight. "I thought at times in Game 6 he was on the cusp of bringing some offense. And he turns one over early in the game that costs us right away. I hope he's beginning to learn what intensity you need. Has he stepped up? No. Tonight's a great opportunity. As we talked about, we wipe it clean. Games 1 through 6 mean nothing now."
I had asked Tortorella whether he believed, across the board, everyone in his dressing room believed they could win tonight. He started out by saying yes and, by the end of his answer, it had become a we'll find out.
"Oh yeah, yes I do," Tortorella said. "These guys have been rundown pretty good all year long but that is part of what it is being a player, handling those situations. Do they care? Absolutely. As we go through an experience like this in a Game 7, there are levels of care. This is going to be a great experience for me in coaching this team in a first Game 7, to see, in this type of situation, with some of the things that have gone on in this series and all the stuff going on around them, how guys handle it. As the coach of the team, I'm looking short term. We want to win this game but I'm always looking into a long-term perspective, too, into what we have here as a group of people. I think we have got good people but I always believe that people can care and then people can really care. We'll find out as they go through but I hope all 20 of them really care. Those are the things I look at as we continue to grow."
Finally, for this post, Tortorella said, in some ways, Game 7 is the easiest.
"We've blown a 3-1 lead in this series and we've had some things going on around the team but we need to wipe it clean," Tortorella said. "And, to me, it's easy at a Game 7 because it's final. It's the final game of the series and I think it's a mindset that you can clear your head and play one game, just one game, and try to find your way."