GREENBURGH, N.Y. – John Tortorella regrets the embarrassment he caused the New York Rangers when he squirted liquid and tossed a plastic water bottle into the crowd during a playoff loss at Washington.
Until Wednesday, when Tortorella conducted exit interviews with players following a disappointing seven-game ouster by the Capitals, the combustible Rangers coach declined to discuss details about events that led to his one-game suspension by the NHL.
“I didn’t want to talk to you guys about it the other day because I just didn’t want it to be more of a distraction,” Tortorella said.
At 6:33 of the third period of Friday’s 4-0 loss in Game 5, Tortorella got into a verbal confrontation with a fan. A video replay showed the coach heaving a water bottle into the crowd. Tortorella then grabbed forward Aaron Voros’ stick and held it high, waving it in the fan’s direction.
“It’s a bad mistake by me,” Tortorella said. “I regret it. I put the New York Rangers organization in an embarrassing situation. I’m embarrassed by it. I am an intense person, which is a positive, but it also turns into a negative sometimes.”
Tortorella was forced to watch the Rangers’ 5-3 defeat – which tied the series 3-3 – from a skybox at Madison Square Garden as assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld led the team.
“Was it a distraction? Of course it was,” Tortorella said. “How much it played into that next game, I don’t know because I thought we played a good first period and I know I had capable coaches on that bench.”
As the Rangers took physicals and said their goodbyes Wednesday, following a long season that featured a coaching change when Tortorella took over for the fired Tom Renney, no one wanted to put the blame on their demanding leader.
The Rangers took their own measure of responsibility for the team blowing a 3-1 series lead for the first time in franchise history.
“We just didn’t play a good enough game,” captain Chris Drury said. “I don’t think it was because he wasn’t there. It just showed how intense he is and how much it means to him and how fired up he was.
“It was a mistake. He didn’t want to do it. If he had to do it again, he wouldn’t do it again. When you see that passion coming from your coach, it’s going to rub off on you.”
As was first suggested by Schoenfeld before Game 6, Tortorella reacted to comments made about his players. He also accused a fan of spitting between gaps in the glass behind the bench. The Rangers complained to the NHL about inadequate security at the arena, and said that contributed to the incident.
“It can’t happen,” Tortorella said of his actions. “I preach discipline. I preach team concept. I am disciplined. I am a team concept guy. I stepped out of bounds and I made a huge mistake.
“We all make mistakes. … I’ll be honest with you, my heart was in the right place. I was protecting my players, at least I felt I was at that point, but I did not do it the correct way. I stepped way out of bounds.”
In discussions with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and league disciplinarian Colin Campbell, Tortorella said he was told that he should have brought up the trouble with the referees. He didn’t do that until after he squirted water and tossed the bottle that hit a woman, who wasn’t an intended target.
Tortorella said he alerted a security guard in the first period and felt that would be sufficient to take care of the issue, but it wasn’t.
“It’s a game where sometimes emotions take over and you lose it a little bit,” forward Brandon Dubinsky said. “We can’t fault the guy. He has passion, he cares about the team and he wants to help the team. It’s not like he was trying to do it to hurt the team.”
Ironically, Tortorella benched noted pest Sean Avery for that game because of undisciplined penalties he had taken late in New York’s Game 4 victory. It was a move Tortorella felt was necessary to try to rein in the excitable forward.
The move wasn’t popular with some members of the organization.
“I would do it again for the short term and for the long term,” Tortorella said. “I felt it was building up to that point. I know that guy wants to help this team win.
“I just felt that he couldn’t get control.”