GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- John Tortorella wasn't all that pleased earlier in the week about having two days off between games, but following a gut-wrenching, double-overtime loss in Game 4 on Wednesday, he was singing a different tune Friday.
"I'll be honest with you -- it took me until yesterday afternoon to swallow the loss," Tortorella said. "That was a tough one. That was one of the tougher ones I lived through. But once you swallow it, you puke it out."
Following the colorful metaphor from the Rangers coach about getting over that loss to the Washington Capitals, he regurgitated something he and his team have been saying since falling into a 3-1 hole in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal-round series-- the confidence among everyone is high entering Saturday afternoon's do-or-die Game 5 (3 p.m., NBC, TSN, RDS) at Verizon Center.
"My gut tells me we're going to have a good game," Tortorella said. "We're ready to play. I just have such a good feeling about our club."
The positive vibes stem from two places -- the team's ability to overcome adversity during the regular season in the form of injuries and devastating losses, and the fact they are just a couple bounces away from being the team that's leading 3-1 in the series.
Things looked bleak after Ryan Callahan suffered a broken ankle in the team's 80th game of the regular season, a win against the Boston Bruins. They delivered a flat performance at home against the Atlanta Thrashers in the following game, but showed resiliency in rallying for a victory in a must-win situation against the New Jersey Devils in the regular-season finale.
The final three weeks of the season, the Rangers treated every game like an elimination game, so Saturday shouldn't have too much of a different feel for them.
"The whole year, we've been pretty good when we're in tough spots," said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who will make his 31st consecutive start Saturday. "We've challenged ourselves and been challenged to step up to the plate. We still have some confidence in here, some confidence in each other. We're facing a good team and we're down 3-1, so that's pretty tough, but we believe we can do it."
No one on the team has said they deserve to be tied or winning the series, but they are taking positives out of being so close to winning in every game except perhaps Game 2, when the Capitals won 2-0.
In Game 1, the Rangers rebounded from a slow start to grab a 1-0 lead early in the third period. They were about six minutes from stealing home-ice advantage in the series until Alex Ovechkin tied the score. They had chances to win in overtime, but a turnover by Marc Staal led to Alexander Semin's game-winner.
The Rangers played perhaps their best 40 minutes of the series in Game 4 and went to the intermission ahead 3-0 with a raucous Madison Square Garden giving them an emotional lift. But it all fell apart in the third period, as the Capitals scored three times to force overtime and eventually received a goal from Jason Chimera halfway through the second extra period.
Devastating losses for sure, but the Rangers are pointing to them as signs they can stay with the top-seeded Capitals.
"It's been tight games, no question," Lundqvist said. "If we weren't unlucky, it could've been a different story. But it is what it is. We're down 3-1. We have to accept it. I think we all believe in each other and believe we can do it. That's where it starts."
Erik Christensen, who has the Rangers' only power-play goal in 18 chances during the series, said it's all about moving on from the past and focusing on one game, one period, one shift at a time.
"It's about the first 10 minutes of the game. That's all that really matters in our world," Christensen said. "I think trying to keep it as simple as possible is the best thing for a team like us and to remember the first 40 minutes of (Game 4) and how well we were playing. We felt like we were taking it to them.
"Unfortunately, all we're going to remember is the third period and the overtime goal. I think the series could be going the other way. It's just the way it is. We're certainly very positive in here. We're looking at the way we played the other night. Aside from the third period, I thought we were in control of the game."
Lundqvist said the extra day off not only benefited the team mentally, but it also helped him rest his tired body. He battled cramps during the first overtime and had to make 49 saves in the marathon contest.
"I was exhausted and yesterday I was still tired," Lundqvist said. "Today was a good practice day. I like the extra day. Tomorrow, there won't be any excuses for not being ready or playing our absolute best."
Tortorella can expect his goaltender's best in Game 5 because of what he described as tremendous growth from Lundqvist over the course of this season mentally. It's tough to find anyone on the Rangers who takes losses harder than Lundqvist, but Tortorella said he's seen more maturity from him in that area.
"I've watched his last quarter of the season and right on through the year, I think he's improved," Tortorella said. "All players need to improve to get where they want to be. As far as the mental part of it, I've seen improvement."
The Rangers will dress the same lineup for Game 5, Tortorella said, but he may do some shuffling of the lines. It's a testament to the team's belief that they have the players to win the series, despite the outcomes of Games 1-4.
"We've played pretty well in the series," Christensen said. "I don't think we should do anything different or change anything. We just have to keep coming at them."
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