Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins brought an end to the Rangers season. The eliminating goal coming from a broken play that might have been offsides, a fortuitous bounce off a Rangers skate, and a shot that was admittedly off the mark. It just was not the Rangers year to take home the hardware.
Before the first game of the season was even played on the ice at Madison Square Garden, expectations for the Rangers were sky high. The free agent signing of centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury caused many to favor the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in years. Fans were excited to see a lineup laden with all-stars to take the ice.
Throughout the regular season, the Rangers labored through inconsistency. What was expected to be a high powered offense was mediocre and their power play was seemingly nonexistent. It was a surprise to see that team defense and solid goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist who turned in his third Vezina worthy season, was winning games instead of their offense. Nevertheless, in what seems to be a new Ranger habit, the last twenty games of the season decided their fate. During that stretch they went 12-3-5, earning a 5th seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Hopes were high as the Rangers trounced the rival New Jersey Devils in the first round, winning the series 4-1. The Rangers performed brilliantly, their offense was in high gear, the defense was solid, Lundqvist once again outplayed future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur and the once anemic power play was starting to convert.
In the first game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers looked to be the real deal. They had the Penguins on their heels and commanded a 3-0 lead. However there was a sense of uneasiness even with the three goal lead and soon enough the Rangers only lead of the series evaporated. With the first goal, that initiated a wave of black jerseys coming from a redirect off Michal Rozsival. With minutes remaining in the third period, a very questionable interference call was made on Martin Straka as he and Sidney Crosby bumped away from the play. Crosby seemed to lose an edge and stumbled across the ice. Less than a minute later, Crosby was able to stay on his feet and fire home a game winning shot on the power play.
From then on it seemed the Rangers could not get a lucky bounce. In Game 2, what would have been a Martin Straka goal was negated by a shockingly fast whistle. If the play had been allowed to continue for a half a second more, it is very possible that the game could have gone into overtime. At times it was maddening to watch as the referees missed some blatant Pittsburgh penalties. In Game 2, Jordan Staal broke his stick and continued to play with it in plain sight of a referee. In Game 5, Chris Drury was obviously high sticked in what should have been a four minute man advantage for the Rangers as he bled all over the ice.
But in the end, the Rangers were left with nobody to blame but themselves. They squandered a three goal lead in the first game. It was their power play that failed to convert at critical points in each game. They took untimely penalties that cost them, actually, Ryan Hollweg took an untimely penalty that cost the Rangers Game 3. They were outplayed and overmatched by the Penguins.
The Rangers and their fans have low spirits, and rightfully so. Maybe the expectations were unfairly high, but in the end its better to have a feeling of emptiness after defeat in the playoffs, then not making the playoffs at all.
There’s always next season.