At this point in Rangers time, there can be only one post-playoff theme: WAIT ‘TIL NEXT YEAR.
Battling last night to stay alive in the playoff race, the Blueshirts — despite a valiant third period — came up short, 4-2, against an Ottawa sextet that proved, at least once in this series, that home ice was no advantage for New York.
Now it’s post-mortem time and within days the Gotham high command will huddle, review the six-game series, evaluate performances and decide who shall remain a Ranger and who shall not.
Considering that these two teams’ regular season records were so nearly alike, there were no favorites in this tournament and the tightness and uncertainty of all six games underlined that point.
What’s more, there will be a surplus of “what might have beens,” considering the odd goals and bad breaks suffered by the Blueshirts. But, then again, that’s hockey.
As for the concluding Game 6 last night at The Garden, the decision came down to too little too late for the Ranger offense, that didn’t awaken until late in the second period.
On top of that, the Blueshirts needed airtight goaltending, but Henrik Lundqvist gave up three goals on 25 shots. At least one of the three was stoppable on nights when the King is on his game (Ottawa’s fourth goal was an empty-netter when Hank was pulled).
The Senators lesser known — but no less effective — scorers such as Mike Hoffman (first goal), and Mark Stone (second goal) delivered key red lights. Meanwhile, All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson once again deflated the Blueshirts with a goal late in the second, which proved to be the game-winner.
The sellout crowd was roused to a frenzy when Chris Kreider brought the Rangers to within one, before the first minute of the final frame had elapsed.
After that, the Rangers dominated offense for the rest of the third period but failed to score another goal on a key power play and assorted thrusts throughout.
Craig Anderson in Ottawa’s goal remained in command, making 37 saves on 39 shots. Over the six-game series, he was superior to Lundqvist and that was the end of that.
OVERVIEW: In what obviously was a do-or-die game for New York, Alain Vigneault earlier asserted that he needed bigger games from his better players than he received in Game 5 at Ottawa. The final score indicated that, no matter what the individual and collective efforts may have come to, combined, they came up short to produce the necessary win. The Senators invaded The Garden winless in the previous two matches, but came away victorious when it counted most.
Dominant for Ottawa was their star defenseman, Karlsson — equally good on the attack — who scored the decisive goal watering down a Rangers rally late in the second period. The Senators nullified top Rangers’ scorers such as Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, and Kevin Hayes. New York’s fourth line — so effective in other games — produced nothing of substance in the finale.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
1. BAD START: Ottawa scored the first goal with less than five minutes having gone by in the first period. The visitors made it look easy scoring the second goal at 14:44 of the opening frame.
2. POWERLESS POWER PLAY: Ottawa was hit with a minor penalty in the first period, but the Rangers couldn’t capitalize. This was followed by a four-minute Blueshirts power play that hardly produced a serious threat. In the end, the Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play.
3. EARLY DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWNS AND TEPID ATTACK: In the first period, no aspect of the Rangers’ game worked. Ditto for three-quarters of the second period.
4. FAILED FACEOFFS: New York consistently lost key draws both on the power play and in the offensive zone. This persisted through each period.
5. FAILED POSSESSION: For most of the first two periods, Ottawa either owned the puck or regularly destructed the Rangers attacks.
6. FAILURE TO SEIZE MOMENTUM: When Mika Zibanejad scored to pull the Rangers within one late in the second, making it 2-1, the crowd went nuts with joy. Within three minutes, an Ottawa counterattack restored the two-goal lead, thereby taking the air out of the building.
TURNING POINTS: With less than four and half minutes gone by in the game, Ottawa stunned the Rangers and the crowd with the first goal. The Senators then killed a two-minute penalty followed by a double-minor with relative ease. The visitors relinquished the goal late in the second period, but quickly counterattacked with the third score giving them a two-goal cushion entering the third frame. That was all they needed.
WHAT THEY SAID:
HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “It’s extremely disappointing. Two things stand out. The odd-man rushes, that they kind of took advantage of, and our 6-on-5 play. That was the big difference in this series. Other than that, we played really well. We created a lot of chances and played with a lot of speed and emotion. But losing all three up in Ottawa, where we had a chance to win a couple, hurt us big time. It definitely hurt us not getting it done up there being up a couple of goals. Sometimes it is not about playing your best game, it is about finding a way to win games. They did that better than we did. We had put ourselves in a position to win almost every game. We just didn’t get it done. We believed until the end that we could pull it off. We had a great third period, a great push, but we came up short. It’s going to hurt for while.”
RYAN MCDONAGH: “We came out slow, it’s as simple as that. We can’t put ourselves in a hole, but we did and I don’t know why. We were all pretty focused in here, saying the right things. But it’s a difference between saying and doing, and that showed up on the ice. We seemed to shoot ourselves in the foot as far as closing games out or not playing well in crucial situations. We have nobody to blame but ourselves and that’s the truth of the situation.”
DEREK STEPAN: “We had a lot of chances, but that’s a good team over there. Don’t sell them short. I’m real proud of this group. We made a real strong push, but just weren’t able to find our game. We shot some pucks and got some looks on the power play, but couldn’t get it back.”
DAN GIRARDI: “We were in a position to win games, but we gave up late goals, which came back to hurt us.”
JIMMY VESEY: “Nothing matters right now. Everyone is disappointed with the result. If you look at Game 5, they were coming off of us handing it to them. Twice in a row. You try to scrap the game before and come out and give your best effort. Unfortunately, we just fell short tonight.”
ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “I thought our guys were ready to play. They were able to capitalize on a couple of their looks and we threw a lot of pucks at their net. It obviously wasn’t good enough. It is as simple as them making one more defensive play or one more play offensively. (Asked about performance of Derek Stepan and Kevin Hayes, response): I’m not going to evaluate individual players at this time. It’s a tough loss for our team and our fans, just going to take some time right now.”
MIKA ZIBANEJAD: “It’s an empty feeling right now. It’s disappointing. We really needed our best game of the season tonight. We did well in the third, but it wasn’t enough. We dug ourselves a hole there in the beginning and we couldn’t generate anything on the four-minute power play. It hurt us. I’m just empty right now.”
BOTTOM LINE: For starters, the “Magic” was not part of the Rangers makeup, except for the two wins at The Garden. The last two losses leading to New York’s ouster featured inept play by some of the core Rangers. When all was said and done, the Blueshirts were not up to the task and the Senators were.
Upon leaving The Garden and reflecting on the game and lost series, a Rangers fan turned to The Maven and simply said, “Ya know, they looked stale.”
I couldn’t argue with him.