Once "death," now "safe" is the way for New York Rangers coach John Tortorella. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE
The first series to be tied 2-2 is the one that wasn't supposed to be a challenge. But safety carries risks, too.
The first series to be tied 2-2 in the 2012 NHL playoffs is the one that wasn't supposed to be a challenge. But maybe the New York Rangers have discovered the risk of a conservative, super-shot-blocking approach that relies on low-scoring games: Sometimes the low scoring joke is on you.
In a previous life, Rangers coach John Tortorella rode the mantra "Safe Is Death" to a Stanley Cup championship with an offensive team in a low-scoring era. That was before the lockout and new rule enforcement designed to open up the game.
These days, "safe" is the way for Torotorella, but it's not without risk.
As the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers were expected to cruise by the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators -- at least as much as any of this year's 16 playoff teams could be expected to cruise. Yet while the media darling Pittsburgh Penguins and the President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks quickly sunk to 3-0 series deficits and were forced to fight off sweeps Wednesday night, the Rangers found their series tied 2-2 after a 3-2 overtime loss in Ottawa.
Now their series will last a minimum of six games. Now the perk of being a No. 1 seed has slipped away. Now it's down to a best-of-three situation, where anything can happen.
It's not as though the tight-checking approach is a rare one in playoff hockey -- if anything, Tortorella's Safe Is Death approach for the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning was a refreshing departure. And as the Nashville Predators have shown as they rely on Pekka Rinne's heroics for a 3-1 series lead in their series with Detroit, the conservative approach has half a chance of success if you have a goalie like Henrik Lundqvist who makes the stops.
But it leaves a narrow margin where perfect sniper shots like Kyle Turris' overtime winner prove that even Lundqvist can be beaten at the wrong time.
The Rangers have been outshot an average of 33.5 to 29 through four games and have had the bare minimum of puck possession with the score close or tied. So have the Predators and Florida Panthers, who lead their respective series, but those teams are facing supposedly superior opponents. For them, the underdog's safety approach is the only way.
Is it the only way for the Rangers, or just the path they've chosen, win, lose or death?