In the darkness of defeat, there were still bright spots for the Rangers

On to 2016 for the Rangers (Corey Sipkin / NYDN)

On to 2016 for the Rangers (Corey Sipkin / NYDN)

I really thought this was the year. I really did. Going into the playoffs, I knew we were the best team, and there was no way we would lose 4 out of 7 to one team. However, it just wasn’t meant to be. As the team who always found a way no matter how difficult, they just couldn’t pull one more trick out of the hat on home ice in game 7.

It’s now the 10th time that I’ve seen Henrik Lundqvist look absolutely distraught as he awaited the traditional handshake line. It’s obviously tough to have to write a season re-cap when the calendar still shows May, but here we go. Let’s look back at some of the positives from one of the best seasons in NY Rangers history.

The Season

Derek Stepan, Dan Boyle and Ryan McDonagh were all injured for significant parts of the first two months of the season. The Rangers were really just able to tread water and stay with it. That’s why in my mind, the season really began on December 8 with an OT win at home vs. the Penguins. It sparked an 8 game win streak, that would launch the Rangers to a record regular season.

Cam Talbot (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Cam Talbot (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

From then on, things were looking great until Lundqvist lay flat on his back on January 31 vs. Carolina. When we heard that he would miss 4-6 weeks, we all thought this was it. But Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner Cam Talbot came through with his heroics and the Rangers vaulted to the top of the NHL standings and went on to win the Presidents Trophy for the first time since 1994.

The playoffs provided us with lots of anxiety, stress and many great moments, and once again the emergence of some great players. Make no mistake, this team is totally different if Zuccarello is in the lineup. His absence put some more responsibility on some other players, and they did not disappoint. I highlight 3 players that stepped up in his absence, and who we can look forward to seeing produce for the coming years.

Future Stars

Jesper Fast (Getty)

Jesper Fast (Getty)

Jesper Fast: A guy who couldn’t stay in the lineup at the beginning of the season, suffered a knee injury and was buried on the fourth line. He proved to us that he can be an effective top 6 forward, something most fans didn’t believe he could be. He was an absolute force in the series vs. the Lighting, and the Rangers are now lucky that they know they can use Fast in different roles, should the situation call for it.

Kevin Hayes: We saw what he can bring to the table in the regular season, but this playoff run was so valuable for him. For a rookie to score some huge goals (OT vs. Pittsburgh in G4, tying goal in G7 vs. Washington) in his first playoff experience, it will help him tremendously in the future. One would have to assume that he will playing on the wing next year, with Oscar Lindberg all but assured a roster spot as a center next year. So look for Hayes to be even more effective in the coming years as he plays his natural position.

J.T. Miller: Another guy who struggled to stay in the lineup during the first two months of the year, he finally solidified his spot on the roster and didn’t disappoint. While he may have only scored one goal, in the playoffs, he rose to the occasion when needed. A Marty St. Louis continued to struggle and Kevin Hayes’ game slipped, he was moved to the top line.  His speed and physical play was able to energize Rick Nash and Derick Brassard in Game 6 at Tampa.

Final Thoughts

Yes, the window has gotten a bit smaller, but the Rangers have many young players in the wings who are ready to step up and make an impact. And while it may sound negative that their window is closing, it is still wide open compared to many teams in the NHL.

I’ll have more on that in the coming days, but let’s still keep our heads held high about what the future has to bring. Break-up day is today, and FullTilt Rangers will have more to discuss between now and July 1. The draft will soon be here as will free agents frenzy. So stay here with us throughout the offseason.

It stings now, but it was one amazing and memorable season. As always, Let’s Go Rangers!!!!

Follow me on twitter: @ekwestel

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