NEW YORK – A tossed bottle and a squirt of liquid by Rangers coach John Tortorella landed New York’s bench boss in hot water and on the sidelines for Game 6 against the Washington Capitals.
Tortorella received a one-game ban from the NHL on Saturday night for squirting water into the crowd and then tossing the bottle over the glass at Washington during New York’s 4-0 loss Friday night in Game 5 of the first-round playoff series.
The hard-edged coach who preaches discipline will sit out on Sunday when the Rangers try for a second time to eliminate the Capitals. New York took a 3-2 lead into Game 6 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
“While it is a difficult decision to suspend a coach at this point in a playoff series, it has been made clear to all of our players, coaches and other bench personnel that the National Hockey League cannot – and will not – tolerate any physical contact with fans,” league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said in a statement.
Tortorella declined to comment on the incident Saturday after practice but seemed to think he would be coaching on Sunday.
“As far as that situation, I’ve been asked not to comment on that by my boss,” Tortorella said.
The Rangers voiced their displeasure in a brief statement issued by team spokesman John Rosasco.
“We disagree with the suspension and will have no further comment,” the club said.
Assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld will likely lead the Rangers on Sunday and could be helped behind the bench by members of the Hartford Wolf Pack coaching staff. The Wolf Pack, the Rangers’ top affiliate, were eliminated from the AHL playoffs Saturday.
At 6:33 of the third period, Tortorella got into a verbal confrontation with a fan behind the bench. A video replay showed the coach heaving a green water bottle into the crowd. Tortorella then grabbed forward Aaron Voros’ stick and held it high, waving it in the fan’s direction.
The replay didn’t show whether anything was thrown at Tortorella, but he used a towel to wipe off his suit.
The timing was a bit ironic because Tortorella scratched noted pest Sean Avery from the Game 5 lineup Friday because of a lack of discipline. Avery took a pair of senseless penalties late in New York’s 2-1 win on Wednesday that gave the Rangers a 3-1 series lead.
Now they have one shot on home ice to advance to the second round for the third straight year while the Capitals will be trying to force a Game 7 back in Washington on Tuesday.
Tortorella wouldn’t say whether Avery would return to the lineup. The Rangers could certainly use his fire and energy, especially with a crowd that will be ready to celebrate a series victory.
“We have to take charge,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “The last home game, we played really well in the first and set the tone for the game. It’s something we have to try to repeat. Try to enjoy it, but we definitely have to be focused and take care of business.”
Lundqvist had a rare bad game on Friday, yielding four goals on 14 shots before sitting out the third period of the Game 5 blowout.
He has allowed four goals in each of Washington’s wins in the series, but let in only four total in New York’s three wins – including a 1-0 road victory in Game 2.
“I feel a lot fresher today than I did after the last home game. That was an intense game,” Lundqvist said Saturday. “I know what I have to do. I have to play my best. I know that. It’s no secret. As a team we have to play our best if we want to beat this team. Washington is good.”
Alex Ovechkin is starting to regain the scoring touch that led him to an NHL-best 56 goals during the regular season. He has scored in each of the past two games, including a highlight-reel tally Friday that gave the Capitals a 4-0 lead in the second period.
“We know we can score and we have to do it,” Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom said. “Of course he’s a good goalie, but we’re a good team, too, and if we’re going to beat him we’re going to have to score. That’s the key.
“We won, we survived another day. They’re still up 3-2, but we’re on our way back.”
Tortorella said it will be the responsibility of the entire team to keep Ovechkin in check, especially because his line plays so much and stays on for extended shifts. It is not a matter of just shutting down Ovechkin because the Capitals have other potent forwards such as Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Sergei Fedorov.
Now Washington might also be feeling confident that Lundqvist’s invincibility no longer exists.
“They shouldn’t,” Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky said. “Hank is the best in the world and will continue to be.
“It would be nice to hopefully get a couple (of goals) and alleviate some of the pressure. Regardless, we know he is going to bring his best game for us and we have to be prepared to do the same thing in front of him.”
The Capitals have outscored the Rangers 12-7 and outshot them 170-119 – leading Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau to compare Washington’s statistical domination to the 1960 World Series when the New York Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55-27 but lost the series in seven games on Bill Mazeroski’s home run.
“It’s kind of weird,” Backstrom said. “I don’t know what to say, it’s just weird.”
The Capitals will have to weather an early rush from the Rangers on Sunday as New York tries to feed off the crowd and grab an early lead.
The Rangers failed to rise up to the intensity and passion the Capitals displayed in a desperate Game 5.
“No, I wouldn’t say we matched it,” Tortorella said. “Going in, you know that’s going to be their best game of the series. … I don’t think we were lying down. We’re a team that is still trying to get into our identity of our game.”
But time is running out. The Rangers don’t want to face elimination on enemy ice in Game 7.
“We’re up 3-2 five games in and we have a home game,” Tortorella said. “We’re right where we want to be.”