Michel Bergeron, who coached the New York Rangers to their most victories in five seasons, was fired Saturday and replaced by general manager Phil Esposito five days before the start of the playoffs.

"I just didn't think the team was responding in the last two months. February and March have not been good months for this hockey club," said Esposito, who coached the Rangers for 43 games during the 1986-87 season when Tom Webster was unable to travel on airplanes because of inner-ear problems.New York was 37-33-8 this season and had clinched a playoff spot under Bergeron, who came to New York at the start of the 1987-88 season after seven years with the Quebec Nordiques.

Esposito, who will remain general manager, said the timing of Bergeron's firing wasn't unusual.

"It doesn't make any difference," Esposito said. "It's not a bad time to do it because usually when you change coaches, a team goes on a spurt for 10, 12 games. So lets hope that happens."

New York has lost three consecutive games, five of its last seven, and 10 of its last 13.

The Rangers were 28-16-8 at the end of January, went 5-7 in February and 4-10 in March.

Esposito took over the team immediately and conducted a workout prior to Rangers' game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.