Rangers-Sens: 19 Thoughts After Series

This was just the final dagger.

The Rangers were wounded, reeling, and ultimately done in by games they had almost all the way in the bag.

So the 4-2 loss in Game 6 at home was a fitting outcome, another handshake line at the Garden, and the Rangers’ third series loss in their last four.

Thoughts:

1. The Rangers got what they deserved because you can’t blow two late leads in 6-on-5 situations, lose both of them in overtime, and expect to win a best-of-seven. And yet, the Rangers had a chance to win Game 6 and force a Game 7. However, they played their worst start-to-finish game of the series, and Ottawa played its best.

2. Make no mistake, as has been said many times during the series, the Rangers were the better team. Not just on paper but also on the ice for long stretches of three of their losses, and for almost the entirety of their two wins. They let games, and wins, get away. Rather, they gave them away. There aren’t enough games in a series to do that and survive. The Rangers did not. Ottawa moves on.

3. I tweeted this before the buzzer and after the empty-netter by Rocket Pageau: The series wasn’t lost in Game 6. It was lost in Game 5. I know, a lot of people said the same thing, including MSG Networks’ own Steve Valiquette. The reason it was so popular a thought is that it was the truth. Still, the Rangers could have forced a Game 7. And couldn’t.

4. Before we get to the game … Last summer, when the Rangers were pretty much cap-maxed out and losing Keith Yandle without adding any high-profile NHL free agents – they did win the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes, which looks like an even bigger win now – I thought this season would be a step backward. Rangers GM Jeff Gorton admitted later that he thought about going with a more nuclear roster shakeup, but decided against it. I think part of the thought process was that they’d still be competitive this season, while they played a lot of young players (three rookies), but that they’d also be able to reload and get back into the fray next season. I thought they’d make the playoffs, still be one of the better teams in the East, maybe win a round or two, depending on the draw. I think, in hindsight, they overachieved to some degree.

5. That said, there was an opportunity here, once the Rangers got into the weaker Atlantic bracket and avoided Pittsburgh and Washington, they could make a run to the Eastern Conference Final. And really, they could and should have won this series. No question in my mind. Opportunity wasted. That said, I don’t think there was much chance they (or Ottawa) could beat the Pittsburgh-Washington Game 7 survivor. Both Eastern powers have flawed groups of defensemen, but both also have elite-level talent up front, dangerous power plays, and are getting goaltending at least as good as the Rangers got from Henrik Lundqvist.

6. Ottawa got only decent goaltending from Craig Anderson, got very little from most of its forwards (i.e. Big Game Brassard, Alex Burrows, quite a few others) and its defensemen struggled throughout. But Ottawa had the best player in the series in Erik Karlsson. Just a magnificent talent who played big minutes on a big ticker, and on a bum heel. Karlsson was the difference in each of the four games the Senators won. Whoever was the second best player in the series, well, he wasn’t even close.

7. The Rangers’ best players didn’t get it done. Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello were the best of the top-nine forwards, but not as good as they were against Montreal. Derek Stepan – who delivered a painful mea culpa after the series – couldn’t get going. Same with J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes, who had moments in the two wins. Chris Kreider made a late impact in Game 6. Vesey was very good … at times. Tanner Glass gave the Rangers a spark, but was on the ice for three Ottawa goals in Game 5 and one in Game 6. I mean, you simply aren’t winning a playoff series with Oscar Lindberg, Michael Grabner and Jesper Fast as your best forwards (all three of them likely to be exposed to Vegas in the expansion draft).

8. But we’ll get to the obituaries later on and the summer look-aheads later on.

9. Lundqvist has now lost three straight facing elimination games. Throughout the series, there were times when he looked to be the dead-on Lundqvist we’ve seen over the years. Against Montreal, he sure did. At times against Ottawa, short-side goals made him look like something less. He gave them a chance in every game, including Game 6, but he didn’t steal a game and was twice beaten in overtime after his teammates let him down with a late-game collapse.

10. The Rangers weren’t terribly crisp in this, the only game in which they didn’t score first. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. A little over two minutes into the game, Brassard popped wide open in front, and Lundqvist had to make two saves, after a Nick Holden turnover that let Brassard get past him. Omen?

11. Yup. Marc Staal skated out of position, Holden wound up on the wrong side, as Mike Hoffman got wide open behind Zuccarello for an uncontested deflection of a Karlsson shot. 1-0. After getting nothing on a power play, the Senators broke out on a 2-on-1 against Brady Skjei, and Lundqvist made a save on Tom Pyatt. Immediately after, Anderson robbed Zuccarello in the slot from Kreider.

12. The Rangers got another power play, this one for four minutes, when Big Game Brass cut his great pal Zuccarello with an inadvertent stick swing. The Rangers lost faceoffs, sent point shots with no traffic, and got nothing else. Easy clears for Ottawa. You know what happens when you fail on power plays in the playoffs? Momentum swings, and it did for the Senators. When the power play ended, Mark Stone went right around Brendan Smith, Lundqvist made a save, and another enormous save on Karlsson.

13. The Rangers mixed line of Stepan, Miller and Glass was trapped, and Ottawa thrust a 2-on-2 against Skjei and Smith. Stone ripped a wrister short side on Lundqvist. Vigneult challenged for offside against Kyle Turris, and lost it. 2-0.

14. The Rangers had no problems with the Senators’ trap all series, but with the lead, the Sens became even more defense-minded and finally made the Rangers squirm. What’s worse, a trap with a lead sucks the energy out of a building, makes it look like the trailing team isn’t trying. In the second period, there was absolutely nothing happening. Then the Rangers killed a Vesey penalty, won a draw, and Zuccarello sent Zibanejad speeding past Dion Phaneuf to beat Anderson. 2-1.

15. It took only 2:21 for Ottawa to regain the two-goal lead. Off an Anderson save, Karlsson led the rush and moved it to Bobby Ryan down the left wall. Kreider was skating with Karlsson stride for stride, then left him to chase Ryan. Skjei couldn’t get to Karlsson before he took the return pass and beat Lundqvist short-side.

16. Early in the third period, Zibanejad sent Kreider in, as Clarke MacArthur failed to stop the pass with his skate at center ice. Kreider snapped it past Anderson. 3-2. He had another great chance in the slot, whiffed, and Anderson robbed Grabner, too. The Rangers were surging hard.

17. Lundqvist stopped Brassard to keep it 3-2 with Ryan McDonagh in the box. McDonagh had a difficult Game 5, had trouble on the power play point in Game 6, then took that penalty.

18. But he led an attack late, the Rangers pushing the pace, eventually getting an extra attacker, looking to add to the 13 goals scored at 6-on-5 in these playoffs. Unlike other teams though, the Rangers didn’t do the effective drill of tossing pucks to the front, outnumbering the defense around the blue paint; hacking, whacking, cross-checking, tripping – knowing that nothing will be called at that stage. Instead, they spread out into a power play type of formation and didn’t force the issue. Then Pageau scored into an empty net and there were handshakes.

[Fischler: Ottawa Triumphs; Rangers Reach End of Playoff Road]

19. This one hit the Rangers hard, in addition to it being a sixth year of having a team they thought that had a shot to win the Cup, the reality is that this core has played 15 playoff series. Some of them a bit fewer than that, but this core won’t be completely intact at training camp next fall. Overachieved, underachieved, whatever. The Blueshirts came up big against Montreal, then tossed a series in the trash against Ottawa. It hit them hard.