Tortorella, 54, had been the head coach in New York since 2008-09, and led the Rangers to three consecutive playoff appearances, including the Eastern Conference finals in 2011-12.
New York’s 2013 season and playoffs were a disappointment to many, though, as the Rangers finished sixth in the East and were bounced in the second round of the playoffs — a five-game loss to Boston during which Tortorella controversially dropped Brad Richards from the final two games of the series.
Many critics have also pointed to Tortorella’s inability to coax offense out of a lineup that features no shortage of high-priced talent up front. New York averaged just 2.2 goals per game in the 2013 playoffs.
Last year, the Rangers scored three or fewer goals in all but one of their 20 postseason games.
“I think it’s a –- it is a step back. We went to the conference finals last year, we had high expectations for ourselves this year; it didn’t go our way. So yeah, this is a step back, but it’s tough to make it there.
“You can’t just expect it to happen. You have to work really hard, and you have to do a lot of things right, and you have to have a lot of good bounces on the way to make it there.”
Instead, it seems like he’s pointing the blame to himself.
After watching his team get bounced in Game 5 on Saturday, Tortorella told reporters such as ESPN’s Katie Strang that it’s his fault that the team’s top producers mostly fell flat. He went on to assess both the series and the Rangers’ disappointing season.
“They deserved to win the series. They were the better team,” Tortorella said. “I thought, this season, we struggled to get our personality, to get our identity.”
That identity part might just fall on Torts, though it remains to be seen if it costs him his job.
In case you’re wondering, Derick Brassard (12 points), Mats Zuccarello (seven points) and Carl Hagelin (six points) were the Rangers’ top playoff scorers while Rick Nash and Brad Richards combined for two goals (though Nash added four assists).
Tortorella: ‘I screwed up’ by not using McDonagh on PP earlier
The New York Rangers scored their first power play goal of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Thursday’s Game 4 win over Boston, and looked more dynamic with the man advantage than any of the previous three games of the series.
Head coach John Tortorella thinks he knows why — he wasn’t using Ryan McDonagh enough.
McDonagh, who logged 3:32 of power-play ice time in Game 4 (only d-man with more was Michael Del Zotto) was a major catalyst, according to Torts.
“I think he helped us on the power play,” Tortorella said on Friday. “It’s me, I screwed that up not using him early enough and I should have.”
McDonagh was a virtual non-factor with the man advantage during the regular season. He averaged just 38 seconds of power play time per night and had just one point — an assist — in 47 games.
But with the Rangers all but out of ideas (they were 2-for-38 heading into last night), Torts decided to give McDonagh a shot, and the move paid off. He had two of New York’s six power-play shots on the night, and looked comfortable manning the point.
Tortorella was full of praise for McDonagh’s ability to rise to the occasion.
“He’s probably one of the most intense, competitive people, players,” Torts explained. “He just competes.”
Video: Tortorella explains decision to scratch Richards
New York Rangers coach John Tortorella still loves forward Brad Richards and if you don’t believe him, then he has some choice words for you.
At the same time, Tortorella decided it was important to go into detail about why Richards was a healthy scratch on Thursday after being previously relegated to the fourth line.
“By no means is this a situation when I take him out that I’m blaming him,” Tortorella said, per NHL.com. “I’m playing Brad on the fourth line, he’s playing seven or eight minutes, it’s not good for him. It doesn’t work playing Brad Richards that way, but I also feel some other guys have played better so that’s where he is right now in our lineup.”
Tortorella determined that he didn’t have a spot on either of the Rangers’ top two lines for Richards, but he also needed to give the fourth line “some sort of identity,” so Richards had to come out.
The obvious question now is what’s next for the 33-year-old forward. If the Rangers can’t find a use for him in the playoffs, they might buy out his massive contract. Perhaps that will happen, but Tortorella is still in his corner even if he isn’t using him.
“I’m sure people will pick it apart, but I want to make sure you know Brad Richards is a hell of a hockey player,” Tortorella said. “He has had struggles. He’s had struggles here. It continues. Me putting him in that role does not help him. So I’d rather have him out and identify how we’re going to run our fourth line.”
We’ll see if Richards is given a chance to bounce back in Game 5.