It was a fun ride — from October through May.
An 82-game regular season was conquered by the Rangers and the challenging marathon run was rewarded with the Presidents’ Trophy.
No other team can make that statement.
Alain Vigneault‘s troops claimed two more playoff rounds against the Penguins and Capitals, then fell a trifle short against Tampa Bay, thereby closing an admirable season.
These were, among the many topics, bruited about by the Blueshirts on Monday at their Farewell to the Season locker-emptying.
Convening for Breakup Day at the club’s Greenburgh, NY training facility, the players both were lauded for their accomplishments while wondering about what might have been.
Coming so close to reaching the Final round — and watching it slip over the hockey horizon — stirred an assortment of recollections.
Beating Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins and then — in swift succession — topping Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals were fabulous feats to be permanently embedded in Rangers history.
The See-Saw Eastern Conference championship tournament had one Saw too many — the Lightning’s Game 7 win — for New York.
That said, the entire Rangers package from Game 1 in October to Game 6 of the playoffs provided an abundance of joy despite the bitter-sweet ending.
“There were a lot of things to be proud of and some of them were really great,” said Derek Stepan. “We played a lot of good hockey and came out first in the NHL.
“We came back from 3-1 against Washington and 3-2 against Tampa. We just fell short in Game 7 against the Lightning.”
Some Rangers, such as Rick Nash, allowed that the toughest parts of losing Game 7 were the sleepless nights that followed.
“Yet,” the sharpshooter added, “I look back at how good this season was overall and what we accomplished as a team.”
The veteran Nash’s feelings were juxtaposed against those of a Young Turk such as Chris Kreider who foresees many upbeat years with the Rangers.
“This was a learning experience for me,” Kreider insisted, “and hopefully I can grow from it. In the end, I look at what we did throughout the season as a pretty successful year.”
There were plenty of extenuating circumstances that prevented the post-season campaign from being an even more positive in the third round.
Revealed on Monday at the training base, the check list of wounds to key Rangers included so many injuries it boggles the mind that the Blueshirts survived as long as they did.
- MATS ZUCCARELLO: Brain contusion and fracture in the skull. While it’s not completely healed, a full recovery is expected in time for next season.
- RYAN MCDONAGH: Right foot fracture. His foot was encased in a protective boot at Greenburgh on Monday.
- DAN GIRARDI: Medial Collateral Ligament sprain.
- MARC STAAL: Hairline ankle fracture.
- KEITH YANDLE: Sprained AC joint in his shoulder.
Collectively, the injuries would have been enough to sink just about every NHL club before the Rangers went down in Game 7.
That the Blueshirts survived for so long is a tribute to the roster’s strength and fortitude.
And when one considers the severity of the Zuccarello injury, it’s a wonder that he was even able to return to The Garden and watch some games.
“When I got hurt,” Mats revealed, “I lost my talking and lost the feeling in my left arm. I couldn’t talk for a while. There was blood on my brain and that affected a lot of stuff.”
Part of his cure involved speech therapy. Meanwhile, captain McDonagh, who was wearing his therapeutic boot during interviews, explained how he was forced to alter his playing style after the injury.
“I really had to simplify the way I played. I couldn’t be as aggressive, offensively, as I wanted to be; as I needed to be.”
Completing his first season wearing the captain’s “C,” McDonagh minimized his heroic attempts at playing despite the broken foot. Rather, he chose to single out his pals for commendation.
“Looking at my teammates, I see a tremendous group of guys who bought into their roles and our system.”
For Henrik Lundqvist, words of enthusiasm for his teammates’ efforts were distilled by positive thoughts for the entire club’s future. Benefitting from the adversity was part of The King’s thought process.
“For us,” the indefatigable goaltender said, “there are a couple of things we can learn from to be a little bit better. During the next couple of weeks, we will analyze and judge a little bit more.
“But it was a great year and we have a great team. We have a group that I’m proud to be part of and, sure, we wanted to be in the Finals, but we came up a little big short.”
Of all the Rangers, Martin St. Louis indubitably experienced one of the more emotional farewells.
Soon to be an Unrestricted Free Agent, the minuscule right wing is heading for his 40th birthday, knowing that he may have played his last NHL game.
“I’ve been blessed to play parts of two seasons for a great organization,” St. Louis concluded. “The opportunity to play (again) for a Cup last year and to be only one win away from going for the Cup round this year are experiences I’ll never forget.”
Ever the cerebral coach, Alain Vigneault took the farewells in stride while meeting with the media.
“Our long-term goal,” AV recalled, “was to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals and have an opportunity to compete for it. We were one period away from achieving that goal.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done. We didn’t have the performance necessary to win that Game 7 from our group. We have some decisions to be made to improve this group.”
The coach harked back to September 2014 and training camp. Many wondered how the Rangers would fare considering the number of players who had left for other teams.
Brad Richards, Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett had become ex-Rangers during the off-season. And that proved to be a sizable block of key performers to lose.
Vigneault: “We had so many important pieces that had left. So many veterans, important pieces to our nucleus. We were adding younger players hoping that they would be able to contribute.
“We began winning on a regular basis and then found that we had a chance to win first overall. When it came to Tampa Bay (in the third playoff round), we thought we had a chance to win. We were one period away.”
Before leaving the scrum, AV sounded a note of optimism:
“We are still very young and improving. It makes it very interesting now if you’re a Rangers fan.”
When the final interviews were concluded, the Rangers departed for assorted points, East, West, North and South in North America and Europe.
Meanwhile, President/General Manager Glen Sather soon will prepare for the annual Entry Draft in Sunrise, Florida.
The goal of his pursuit, as always, will be the Stanley Cup.