When Sam Rosen proclaimed, “And this one will last a lifetime,” after our Rangers won the Stanley Cup in June of 1994, I’m sure he meant that the joy of the victory would last a lifetime, not that it would be the only championship the franchise would win in our lifetime. However, after the heartbreak of the past 4 seasons, it is hard not to wonder whether Mr. Rosen’s words, while not intentional, will prove to be tragically prophetic.
I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed. I’m angry and I’m heartbroken, as I’m sure most of you are. But one thought keeps coming to my mind that gives me more hope for the future of our New York Rangers than any other. The thought comes in response to comments I’ve heard from fans and pundits alike that this Ranger team, which was good enough to be the best team in the regular season, was not good enough to win in the post-season. The reality is this: the Rangers team which won the President’s trophy as the best team in the regular season was not the same Rangers team that competed in the post season.
As we learned after Game 7, our spiritual leader, team Captain, and best defensemen, Ryan McDonagh, played the past few games of the playoffs with a broken foot. NHL hockey analyst, Anson Carter, also tweeted that one of our Assistant Captains, Marc Staal, played with a broken ankle.
Gotta give the @NYRangers credit. Good effort by Mac on a broken foot and Staal broken ankle I’m hearing
— Anson Carter (@AnsonCarterLA) May 30, 2015
A few weeks before the start of the playoffs, the defensemen who was arguably our best throughout the season and having a career year, Kevin Klein, got hit with a shot from Alex Ovechkin and suffered a broken arm. While Klein would return to the Rangers line-up, he never did return to the dominant game he played at both ends of the rink before his injury. 3 of the Rangers top 4 defensemen were either coming off injuries or playing with injuries in the conference finals.
Less than a month before the playoffs, Martin St. Louis suffered a right knee sprain that kept him out of the Rangers line-up until the tail end of the regular season. Whether it was age catching up with him, the injury still nagging him or an inability to regain his timing when he came back from the injury, the Rangers 2nd leading goal scorer in and 4th leading point producer in the regular season was certainly not the same player in the playoffs which he was during the regular season.
And then there’s the Hobbit…..
In addition to be an emotional leader on the ice and in the room, Mats Zuccarello was our Rangers’ 5th leading point scorer during the regular season and an integral part of our team’s top scoring line. The impact of his loss was immeasurable.
To sum up. If you take our top two lines on offense and defense, you have 10 players. It is not unfair to say that our Rangers played all or part of these playoffs without 5 of these top 10 players healthy or at full strength as they were in the regular season.
I’m sorry, but take 5 of any team’s top 10 players and have them out of the line-up injured or playing with injuries and they aren’t going to win either. With all of this, our Rangers still found themselves one period shy of making their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance. As far as I’m concerned, that ain’t too bad at all!
We’re talking a half inch left or right and Killorn’s weak backhander doesn’t go in past King Henrik. We just needed once bounce to go our way and we would’ve held a 1-0 lead in that game. At virtually half strength on our top 2 lines, we were that close from going to the finals again. That is certainly nothing to look down at.
The oldest players in the core of this team are Dan Girardi at 31 and Rick Nash at 30. That’s still the prime years of their careers! Brassard is 27. Stepan is 24. Kreider is 24. Hagelin is 26. Zuccarello is 27. Captain Mac is 25, Staal is 28. The core of this team is young and just hitting the prime of their careers right now. With the influx of youth we received this year from J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Kevin Hayes, there is no reason at all to think that this team won’t bein the hunt for a Cup for many years to come.
The breaks didn’t go our way this year – well, they did but they came in the form of broken limbs instead of lucky bounces which turned into goals! I do believe this year’s team was good enough to win the Stanley Cup and I believe next year’s team will be too.
As a fan of our Rangers for 36 years, I can tell you that there have MANY, MANY seasons where we were out of the running before the puck dropped for game 1. Look up Rangers fans. We have a lot to be hopeful for!
By Joseph Romano – Devoted Rangers fan since 1978