Let me start off by saying this…this is the second post I’ve written about this topic. I was up early this morning (obviously didn’t get a good night’s sleep) and began banging out this ridiculously long-winded post about the ups and downs of the entire Rangers post season, and it was just too much.
In case you haven’t heard or figured out from the title of this post, the Rangers lost Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals to the LA Kings in double over-time, with a final score of 3-2. I want to keep it classy, so first thing I’ll say is congrats to the Kings and Quick, who was such a huge force for them in their playoff run. I have huge respect for Quick, and see him as being in the same league as Lundqvist. His goaltending in Game Three was phenomenal, and he is the sole reason the Rangers lost that game. They played hard, had a lot of good opportunities, but he was in the zone and denied everything the Rangers threw at him. That being said, I wasn’t happy about how far down the receiving line he was before being offered The Cup last night. Goaltenders are what define a team. Just look at Washington. You have Ovechkin, who had the most goals last season (51), yet the Caps didn’t even make the playoffs. You need a solid goalie to succeed, and I didn’t like how the Kings snubbed Quick.
But this isn’t about the Kings, this is about the Rangers. It has been one hell of a season, and while they did lose in the end, it was a run I’ll never forget. Being a hockey and Rangers fan for ten years now, I never experienced the Rangers big win in ’94. I haven’t seen them as champions; only a team that can manage to squeak into the playoffs only to be eliminated in the first or second round. Just to make it to the finals says something about the caliber of this team, and I’m looking forward to next season.
It was a funny playoff run with lots of strange twists and heart-breaking mini-stories. The Rangers may have been eliminated early on if not for the passing of Martin St. Louis’ mother, which seemed to give the whole team a jump-start as they rolled over the Penguins in the last three games. The whole event in Montreal with Derek Stepan getting his jaw broken and Dan Carcillo being suspended for ten games (later brought down to six) was crazy. Then there’s the concept of “puck luck” where the Kings blanked the Rangers in Game Three thanks to some bad bounces, while the Rangers survived Game Four thanks to two pucks that actually got stopped on the goal line by piles of slush. Finally there’s the horrible officiating in the Cup Final, with the lack of a “no goal” call in Game Two’s uncalled goalie interference and Game Five’s tripping penalty on Mats Zuccarello, where it was clear after replay that the Kings player was the one who actually did the tripping. I can sit here and make excuses all day, but in the end it was Dustin Brown hoisting The Cup over his head.
The important thing is that Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. A lot of these guys got a taste of it, and now they will want to finish the meal. If Lundqvist wasn’t already hungry enough before this, he will be chomping at the bit next season. I expect him to be playing even harder than he has been, which says a lot because he was reason the Rangers got as far in the playoffs as they did.
The question remains of what’s in store for this team next season. The Rangers were able to sign in Lundqvist for a long-term contract which is huge, as he is the backbone of this team. However, there are a lot of players with contracts expiring this season. According to Cap Geek, forwards Brassard, Kreider, Zuccarello, Boyle, Pouliot, Moore, and Carcillo, and defensemen Falk, Moore, Stralman, and Diaz are all up for contract extensions. Granted, not all these guys are going to be super desirable, but many of them used the playoffs to showcase how hard-working and gritty they could be. The unrestricted free agents are going to have mad dolla’ bills thrown at them, and there is no way that the Rangers will be able to keep them all by matching these offers and still stay within the salary cap. The other question is with Richards, as the Rangers have an opportunity to buy out his contract to free up the cap space. Plus who knows what free agents the Rangers may sign or trade for. Rumor is Jason Spezza from Ottawa is looking for a trade, and we know how much the Rangers front office likes to look at these juicy vets…
Regardless of what happens during the off-season, next year there will be plenty of staples. Lundqvist will be in net, as strong and determined as ever. He has some years on him now, but the mileage gained also comes with experience and desire. Also plan on seeing a big “C” stitched onto McDonagh’s jersey as he has stepped up in the locker room with the absence of Callahan. Lastly, gotta mention the Ranger’s coach, Alain Vigneault. This guy came into the franchise and within his first year behind the bench got the team to the finals. Despite what he coulda/shoulda done in some instances, for the most part he smoothly guided the Rangers through the first few months of rough patches until they could begin to see what he envisioned. His calm demeanor is a welcome change to the loud, in-your-face coaching style of John Tortorella, and I’m sure that goes a long way to giving the team good vibes.
This season was a great roller coaster of emotions for Rangers fans, ending with them seeing the team just three wins away from attaining the grandest prize of all. They had some lucky breaks as well as their share of the bad ones. They played tough and with passion at times, while others they seemed to be just barely coasting by on fumes while relying on Lundqvist to pick up their slack. In the end, they proved to themselves that they could become Conference champions, they proved to the fans that they would not forever let them down, and they proved to the NHL community at large that they were worthy of being in the Stanley Cup Finals. Lundqvist may not have gotten the Veznia or the Stanley Cup, but he proved himself to be the best damn goaltender in the NHL.
Enjoy the next couple of months of relaxation, because next season the Rangers are going to be taking it a step further to prove to everyone that they can finish the job.