Rangers coach admits special season ‘fell short’ with disappointing playoff finish

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers did not achieve what they set out to do this season. They were the best regular-season team in the NHL, winning the Presidents’ Trophy with a franchise record 114 points and 55 wins. But they did not reach the Stanley Cup Final, falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final in six games.

Many would characterize that as a failure, particularly considering the lofty expectations set by their play throughout the season, and through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s a sentiment that Rangers coach Peter Laviolette appears to agree with.

“There’s a goal at the beginning of every year, and that’s to win the Stanley Cup,” Laviolette told reporters Tuesday during the team’s breakup day interviews. “By that standard, the season was not successful. It fell short of where we wanted to be.”

There’s a burden that comes with being a Stanley Cup contender. Having those expectations is a double-edged sword. You may be good enough to set your sights on Lord Stanley’s trophy, but with those expectations comes a sense of failure if you achieve anything less than hoisting the Cup.

“We truly believed that we were gonna win the Stanley Cup,” Laviolette said. “With that comes a lot of disappointment, a lot of hurt, an emptiness in your stomach that you didn’t get to where you wanted to go. There was a lot of positives from this year, there was a lot of good things that came from it, but ultimately, it’s disappointing and frustrating for everybody — every New York Ranger fan, the organization, staff, coaches, the players — we wanted to get somewhere together. I believe we can get there.”

In a city like New York, where greatness is an expectation, the pressure to be a champion is magnified — particularly for a Rangers team that now watches its Stanley Cup Championship drought increase to 30 years.

“With everything that we went through and the mindset that we had going into this, I think guys are not only disappointed but probably angry too, frustrated and angry that we’re not still playing and it’s not us in the Finals,” Laviolette noted. “We ran into a good team and we didn’t win enough games.”

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Peter Laviolette believes Rangers will ‘make as much noise as we can’ next season

NHL: Stadium Series-New York Rangers at New York Islanders
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Ran into a good team, they certainly did. Paul Maurice’s Florida Panthers returned to the Stanley Cup Final for the second season in a row, outplaying the Blueshirts in all facets of the game minus goaltending. The Rangers’ offense faltered as the ice shrunk against a deep, physical, and aggressive Panthers team.

“The difference was we needed to generate a little bit more, we needed to find another goal in every game,” Laviolette said, referring to the fact that in every loss in the Eastern Conference Final, the Rangers trailed by one goal in the third period. “I don’t believe it changes anybody’s belief of what we’ll do next year. I think we’ll come to training camp and we’ll look to pick up exactly where we left off, attack the regular season, get into the playoffs, and make as much noise as we can.”

The Rangers really struggled with Florida’s style, which featured a relentlessly aggressive forecheck and physical play in the middle of the ice. The Panthers tilted the ice against New York for most of the series, outshooting them by 51 across six games, and out-attempting them by a mile.

Still, Laviolette doesn’t believe the Rangers need to fundamentally change how they play.

“Every team plays the game different. We’re not Florida, we don’t play like them. We found success doing it our way, and we weren’t able to get through them,” admitted Laviolette. “New champions are crowned every year. We can get better at our game, we can get better with what we’re doing. Just because we didn’t get through Florida this year doesn’t mean we can’t get through them next year.”

One of the key areas for concern was the way Selke Trophy-winner Aleksander Barkov and company largely shut down a star-studded group of Rangers. Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox were held without a goal in the series, and Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider managed just one goal apiece.

Add to that, the Panthers held the Rangers power play, which ranked third in the NHL during the regular season, to just one goal in 15 attempts.

Once again, Laviolette doesn’t believe that it’s cause for a full upheaval.

“I believe that our players can find success against a team like Florida. We didn’t get it done, so we’ll have to be better at it the next time we get an opportunity.”

The sting of this postseason loss will linger with players and fans alike, particularly after how magical the rest of this season was. While it feels dark now, the sun will rise again tomorrow and the Rangers will return to the ice next October with much of their talented core still intact.

“I think our guys are confident in themselves, they know exactly what we did this year, they know how we work, they know how we went about our business. And I think that they’re disappointed and angry. There’s nothing we can do about it right now,” Laviollete acknowledged. “I just get the sense that we’re gonna come back, we’re gonna have a good training camp, it’s gonna be sharp, and we’re gonna get back to business.”

It will be a tough task to follow up the Presidents’ Trophy regular season they had this year, particularly as the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference remain highly competitive. But fans can rest assured that Laviolette’s squad will return next year with the same goal in mind — to bring the Stanley Cup back to New York.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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