Nicholas J. Cotsonika

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Nicholas J. Cotsonika is the NHL writer for Yahoo! Sports. He previously worked for the Detroit Free Press, where he covered the Red Wings, Lions and several other subjects. He has written three books, including "Hockey Gods: The Inside Story of the Red Wings' Hall of Fame Team."

  • Dan Girardi in full warrior mode for the Rangers in Game 1 win over the Devils

    NEW YORK – "This is the best time of year, man. I feel great out there." Dan Girardi said that as he sat in the dressing room Monday night, sipping an energy drink, looking like hell.

    Dan Girardi delighted Madison Square Garden by giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the third period. (AP)He had a scruffy playoff beard covering his gaunt cheeks. He had some old scars on the bridge of his nose, some freshly closed cuts above his left eyebrow and a brand-new bloody bruise on the side of his left eye. He had played 25 minutes and 11 seconds, more than any other skater in the game. He had blocked five shots, tied for the team high. He had thrown three hits and taken some hits, too.

    But this is the Eastern Conference final, these are the New York Rangers and this is Dan Girardi. And if you're a hockey player – a hockey player's hockey player – you live for stuff like this: Girardi, a gritty defenseman who rarely scores, broke a scoreless tie early in the third period, then drew a penalty and assisted on the next goal as the Rangers earned a 3-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils in Game

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  • It's all about winning for controversial Rangers coach John Tortorella

    NEW YORK – After Mike Rupp signed with the New York Rangers last summer, he tried to run something past coach John Tortorella. He and his wife had found a school for the kids and a place they liked, but it was in New Jersey – far from the training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., and Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

    John Tortorella hasn't toned down his confrontational approach. (Getty)"I called him just to say, 'Hey, this is the area I'm looking at. What are your thoughts on that?' " said Rupp, a former New Jersey Devil, starting to chuckle. "He just said, 'I don't give a expletive where you live. I don't care if you live in Indiana. You get to practice on time and you do your job, and you're going to love it here.' "

    Ah, Torts.

    No BS, unless the profanity is peppering his speech. No wavering from his singular focus – winning. The man won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. He's halfway to another one now with the Rangers. And you know what? He doesn't give a damn what you think.

    It's a remarkable story, really. Tortorella is a

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  • Brad Richards was expected to deliver on a grand stage for the Rangers, just not quite so quickly

    NEW YORK – Yes, this is why Brad Richards signed with the New York Rangers, and this is why they wanted him.

    Here he was Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, soaked in sweat and wearing the Broadway Hat, the silly black fedora – a few sizes too small – the guys give to the player of the game. He had lived up to his billing as a clutch playoff performer, scoring the all-important first goal just 1:32 into the first period, setting the tone for a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals, leading the Rangers to their first Eastern Conference final since 1997.Brad Richards celebrates after scoring his first-period goal Saturday. (Getty)

    But the truth is, Richards didn't envision this, not exactly. "I didn't know where we were going to be right now," he said. He didn't know the Rangers would win a Game 7 at MSG this season, let alone two in two rounds, when they hadn't even played a Game 7 at MSG since 1994. He didn't know they would inch so close to the Stanley Cup so quick.

    All he knew is that he was joining a young, up-and-coming team that should have a

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  • Braden Holtby making most of playoff opportunity with mentally mature approach

    WASHINGTON – He could have lost his cool, and the old Braden Holtby might have. He was pitching a shutout Wednesday night when he tried to push across the crease to make another save. He ran into an opponent while the puck ricocheted off a teammate and into the net.

    Braden Holtby credits visualization techniques and breathing exercises for his calm, cool style. (Getty)It doesn't matter if you think it should have been goaltender interference. It matters that he thought it should have been – and that there were 50.5 seconds left in the third period, and that the Washington Capitals were facing elimination in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and that their lead was down to one, and that they had blown a one-goal lead in the final seconds and lost early in overtime the game before.

    Holtby took a breath. Then he took another. Then the Capitals held on to win, 2-1.

    "I had to control myself from yelling and trying to plead my case," Holtby said. "That was the hardest part."

    But that is why Holtby is here right now, headed for a Game 7 against the New York Rangers on Saturday night at Madison

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  • Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals force Game 7 by refusing to go down against the Rangers

    WASHINGTON – Alex Ovechkin roared down the ice, tangled with a defenseman and fell on his butt. As he spun 270 degrees in a seated position, he gloved the puck to his stick. With his legs extended straight in front of him, he fired a shot. A hard shot. A good shot.

    Alex Ovechkin's down-but-not-out attempt exemplified the Caps' effort in Game 6. (Reuters)He didn't score but … well, wow.

    The Washington Capitals have been playing on the seats of their pants throughout these playoffs – committing to defense, blocking shots, sweating through tight games. But Wednesday night's 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers was more than that. It was a spectacular display of resilience and team hockey that set up a Game 7, Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

    They say it isn't whether you fall, but whether you get up. Ovechkin and the Capitals fought as if they didn't even have time to get to their feet, and they rose to the occasion.

    The Capitals kept killing penalties (five). They kept blocking shots (24). Goaltender Braden Holtby kept making saves (30). But they took a

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  • Devils do it their way by frustrating the Flyers en route to the East final


    The Devils' best players delivered, and so did the depth guys and the grinders. (Getty)PHILADELPHIA – As the screams and shouts of joy echoed in the hallway outside the New Jersey Devils' dressing room Tuesday night, captain Zach Parise came out to be interviewed by NBC's Pierre McGuire.

    The Devils had won, 3-1. They had beaten the Philadelphia Flyers four straight times and eliminated them in five games. One year after missing the playoffs for the first time in forever, they had returned to the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 2003.

    Parise was headed to the third round for the first time in his career. Yet he waited for a cameraman to arrive. Yet he waited for the crew to adjust the lighting.

    "I'm missing the celebration, guys," he prodded a little.

    The crew actually turned off the spotlight for a moment, before turning it back on and pointing it at the ceiling, illuminating Parise with only a reflected glow.

    It was so Devils. This is a team that plays across the river from the biggest city in North America, the media capital of the world,

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  • Joel Ward's late penalty gives Rangers the chance they need in Game 5 OT win over Capitals

    NEW YORK – By the time the reporters poured into the Washington Capitals' dressing room late Monday night, it was almost empty. Most of the players were already gone. The trainers were packing up their gear and removing their nameplates.

    Joel Ward's on-the-edge style betrayed him late in Game 5 against the Rangers. (Getty)But Joel Ward was sitting down, trying to be a stand-up guy. He had taken a double-minor for high sticking that led to two power-play goals for the New York Rangers – one with 6.6 seconds left in regulation, the other 1:35 into overtime.

    Instead of earning a 2-1 victory, the Caps suffered a 3-2 loss. Instead of taking a 3-2 series lead, they fell into a 3-2 hole.

    He couldn't duck it. He couldn't put it away. He couldn't take his name off it.

    He didn't try.

    "Um …"

    He sighed.

    Three times, he said he let down his teammates. Three times, he said there was nothing he could do as he sat in the penalty box. Three times, he said he had been hoping for a chance to redeem himself. He called it "a little mentally disturbing."

    He could have just

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  • Ilya Kovalchuk dips into his bag of tricks in setting up Devils' Game 3 victory over Flyers

    NEWARK, N.J. – When he took the ice Thursday morning, Ilya Kovalchuk felt good. His so-called lower-body injury – reportedly a herniated disc – had responded to rest, therapy and whatever secrets a medical staff conjures up in the heat of the playoffs.

    "A little magic," he told reporters with a smile.

    Ilya Kovalchuk set up the winning goal in overtime with a beautiful no-look pass. (AP)And when he took the ice Thursday night, Kovalchuk made a little magic himself. After producing a goal and an assist in regulation, he pulled a trick to set up the winning goal in overtime, giving the New Jersey Devils a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers and a 2-1 lead in their second-round series.

    Kovalchuk held the puck inside the New Jersey zone. He noticed teammate Alexei Ponikarovsky coming off the bench while the Flyers were making a line change, and he made what coach Pete DeBoer called "a world-class play," whipping a gorgeous pass through the open space up the middle of the rink. Ponikarovsky broke in on a 2-on-1 – shot, rebound, score.

    But Kovalchuk didn't just

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  • Playoff overtime hockey at its best: Rangers outlast Capitals in midnight marathon

    WASHINGTON – One hundred fourteen minutes and forty-one seconds of hockey. One hundred fourteen minutes and forty-one seconds of shots fired, shots blocked, shots saved and shots pinged off posts. One hundred fourteen minutes and forty-one seconds of burning legs, bloody sweaters and stitched skin.

    "It felt like it was never going to end," said New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

    Gaborik and friends celebrate. (AP)But all good things must come to an end, and after the clock had struck midnight, after Wednesday had turned into Thursday, the puck rimmed around the boards behind the Washington Capitals' net. Brad Richards threw it in front. Marian Gaborik banged it home.

    In a split second, it was over. The Rangers had defeated the Capitals 2-1 in triple overtime. Though it counted as only one game, giving New York a 2-1 lead in this second-round playoff series, it took nearly two games' worth of time and effort. It was the longest Rangers game since the 1930s and the third-longest in Capitals history.

    [

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  • Marc Bergevin brings people skills, sense of humor to Canadiens GM post

    You didn't need to speak French or English to know Marc Bergevin won his introductory news conference Wednesday. All you had to do was listen for the laughter.

    Marc Bergevin will need his sense of humor in the stressful Montreal market. (Reuters)Mostly in French, a little in English, the new general manager of the Montreal Canadiens cracked one-liners and made jokes as he outlined his vision. Though he referred to reporters as "fine people" at one point, he wasn't playing to the crowd. He was being himself.

    "I enjoy people," he said. "I'm a people person."

    In other words, he's not Pierre Gauthier. He's the opposite of his predecessor, a humorless recluse known as "The Ghost." He's funny. He's outgoing. He's the Habs' Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd – a Ghostbuster.

    Style goes only so far without substance. Winning news conferences means little without winning games. No one will chuckle if the Canadiens, Les Glorieux, the 24-time Stanley Cup champions, cannot climb out of the Eastern Conference cellar and become contenders again. Bergevin lacks GM experience. It

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