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Tortorella’s Message for Philadelphia’s Postseason Push

The TV was muted in the Flyers Radio studio after Monday night’s game against the Islanders, as it always is, when John Tortorella came to the podium for his postgame press conference. Conflicting audio, as a rule, isn’t good for radio.

But sound wasn’t required to see Tortorella’s frustration in how the night had gone. In a home game against one of the teams chasing them in the standings, the Flyers had put forth what Tortorella considered an unacceptable effort – especially in the second period, when they were outshot 17-3 despite the Wells Fargo Center crowd coming together to support the debut of Ivan Fedotov.

His comments, which included describing the game as “embarrassing in the second period for the Philadelphia Flyer uniform,” reverberated around the league, just like some other things have this season. Even for Tortorella, they were pointed for a postgame press conference, which usually sees the coach more tight-lipped in criticism right after a game, as he prefers to save his evaluation for after he’s seen the game recording. But on Wednesday, he doubled down on the evaluation during an optional skills-session day for the team – but also clarified that the criticism comes from a much more caring place than many may have considered.

“I was in control the other night,” Tortorella said. “What I said I meant, and quite honestly when I watched the tape now, I’m more concerned than just the second period. Because I’m so proud of the team getting here. And I guess now the narrative out there is that they’re young, they’re not supposed to be here. Bullshit. We’re here. We’re here. Face it, and let’s be better. And I don’t think we’re ready to be better, and that’s my problem with us right now. I have not done a good enough job to get them over the hump after playing those seven games and then each game as it goes down, we have six left, I haven’t done a good enough job to make them understand we have to be different now. We have to be at a different level. That’s my frustration with me and that’s my frustration with them. If people can’t handle it, so be it.”

And that’s the difference between this team and most other teams. These Flyers, a tighter group than most any of them have ever seen – even Tortorella, with his 40 years in the pro game – are not a group that is going to wither from criticism like that. Most on the outside would see a press conference like that as an outburst, and it starts rumblings that Tortorella is going to lose the room, or that his methods will start to grate on the players.

“I think it’s a pretty special group, and I think all the athletes need to learn to tune stuff out, and I think they’ve done a really good job of that,” he said. “I think it’s a group that’s just locked in together and I don’t think too much is going to affect them.”

That is indeed the case with this group. While Tortorella has hinted at having specific conflicts with individuals this year, when there’s a rant of sorts that is seen on TV or it only takes 48 seconds to get through seven questions during a press conference in Calgary, it’s not something that negatively affects the group. It’s just the nature of business. They wake up the next day and move on, rather than what the common belief seems to be, that the team would respond negatively. That’s because most outside the room only see one end of it, and don’t really see where it leads. That’s something Tortorella offered insight on in Wednesday’s chat, as he indicated he was set to make sure the team’s mindset is where he wants it as the group heads out to Buffalo and Carolina.

“I think we’ve got a pretty important day coming tomorrow as we start our road trip here to make sure we’re thinking correctly,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, I am proud of our team. From day one when you could see this room come together, I love coming to the rink and working with these guys. But it’s my job to make sure they understand where we’re at now. We’re not regular season now. We have put ourselves in this spot. Let’s not fade away and say you know what we’re not even supposed to be here. That sucks. We’re here. And I want to make sure we’re going to go at this the proper way to give ourselves, so [when we’re done on April 17], we don’t say ‘why didn’t I do that, why didn’t we get to that level.’ I don’t want regrets.

I don’t know if we get in. I don’t know what happens. But I don’t want us to fade now. It’s about getting to another level. And I do think some guys are struggling to get there, and I think it can be taught. Some guys have it in them. But to get to another level, a level you don’t even think you know about, that can be taught. That’s part of my job. So that’s what I want to happen and whether we succeed or not at least we can look ourselves in the mirror at the end and say we tried. We’re not there now. We have time to get there, but we’re running out.”

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