I have to apologize for this being a bit tardy. The loss to the Devils stung, and it took me a bit to write this objectively.
So here we are. It’s late May, and the Rangers playoff run has come to an end. No matter how much a bitter fan wants to spin it, this was a miraculous season. The Rangers simply were not supposed to be this good so early. I had them penciled in to make this run next year, after a full year of Chris Kreider, and after kids like Michael Del Zotto and Derek Stepan got some years under their belts. But this year? Total shock, and a great ride.
But with that great ride came expectations. Ottawa was a tough draw, but if the Rangers can get past them, then the rest should be a breeze. After all, the Bruins were gone and the Penguins were gone. Those were the only two teams that had a realistic shot at beating the Rangers, right? Even the Caps were a tough draw, but the Rangers were just better.
Peter Deboer made the difference for the Devils. He didn’t necessarily out-coach John Tortorella, but he made the correct adjustments and utilized his club’s outstanding depth to exploit the Rangers’ weaknesses. That was something Ottawa and Washington could not do. The Devils were the deeper team, and the Devils came out on top.
Even still, this is like dealing with the five stages of grief. So let’s walk through my emotions over the past few days.
Denial: The Rangers didn’t just lose to the sixth seeded Devils. That’s impossible. The Rangers are the better team. They even beat them down in fights all year long. Marty is 40 years old. This one is just a bad dream, and I’ll wake up tomorrow knowing it didn’t happen.
Anger: My TV remote might still be embedded into the dry wall.
Bargaining: I’ll do anything to have the opening 10 minutes of Games Five and Six back. All I want is the Rangers to replay those 10 minutes of each game. I’ll give you anything.
Depression: I don’t want to talk about the game. Leave me alone. Go away. It hurts too much.
Acceptance: I’m ready to admit I got to this step fairly quickly, but maybe that’s because I rationalize things way too much in my own head. It’s both a strength and a weakness. But in the end, if you told me in September the Rangers would lose in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals, I would have taken it. This team has flaws, and only a year or two of development can really fill those gaps. This team was supposed to be a bottom-four team in the playoffs, and they were the top seed. That is progress folks.
But here we are in late May, and the loss is still stinging a good portion of the fan base. It happens, and it is what it is. You cannot lead before you follow, and you cannot win before you understand the pain of losing. Sick as it may sound, this loss probably fuels the Rangers for years to come. Too many players who are a part of the long term future of this club experienced this painful defeat. It’s like the 1995 New York Yankees. They exceeded expectations, and lost in heart breaking fashion.
After that, they won four World Series titles in five years, and were two Mariano Rivera blown saves away from possibly six titles in a row.
I’m not saying this will happen for the Rangers. After all, the Yankees had multiple Hall of Fame players on those rosters, one of which is the greatest relief pitcher who has ever and will ever live. The Rangers right now have one player of that magnitude in Henrik Lundqvist.
But the pieces are there. Only small roster changes need to be made to tinker with this lineup. Chris Kreider will be in New York for a full year. Dylan McIlrath and J.T. Miller will get long looks at camp. And maybe, just maybe, the Rangers recognized that they need flexibility in their lineup. There is a need for size and speed in the bottom six.
This season showed us that the Rangers are on the rise. The Rangers have finally built a winner from within. Some saw this coming a few years ago, others did not. But everyone was pleasantly surprised for this season. This is far from a lost season. The future is here.