Rangers know they ‘came up short’ by not winning Stanley Cup this season

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

There was so much that was good this season for the New York Rangers. But in the end, they failed to achieve the goal that was set out in front of them when they first got together last September.

“The goal from training camp was to win a Cup, and we came up short of that,” defenseman Adam Fox said simply after the Rangers were eliminated in a Game 6 loss to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday.

It’s a heartbreaking blow for a team that looked poised to win the Stanley Cup at so many different points this season. Instead, they’ll fall two wins short of making it to the final round, just as they did two years ago when they dropped the conference final in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“We were first place in the League all year,” Fox said. “Obviously, we thought we could win the whole thing.”

It was a sentiment shared by Fox’s teammates and coach after the Rangers set franchise records with 55 wins and 114 points, and won the Presidents’ Trophy. Unfortunately, that will be the only hardware they take home this year.

“This is not where we wanted to be,” Mika Zibanejad said dejectedly. “It’s just an empty feeling. This is not how we envisioned it.”

Related: Rangers losing is never easy, winning even harder

‘Special’ season ends in heartbreak for Rangers

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

The parallels to 1994, the last time the Rangers hoisted the Stanley Cup, only fueled dreams and visions of a championship run 30 years later.

The legendary ’94 team also won the Presidents’ Trophy, setting franchise records at the time with 52 wins and 112 points in the regular season. They too won their first seven postseason games and then trailed in the Eastern Conference Final series 3-2 after a tough loss at home in Game 5.

But where the ’94 Rangers rallied, taking the last two games from the New Jersey Devils and clinching a trip to the Cup Final on Stephane Matteau’s overtime winner, this season’s squad came up short, dropping the last three games to the Panthers.

“It just felt special this year,” said Rangers captain Jacob Trouba. “It felt like we had something in this room. There was a bond.”

It was a season marked with fantastic performances. Artemi Panarin’s 120 points were second most in franchise history, only Jaromir Jagr (124) had more. Delightfully surprising years from Alexis Lafreniere and Jonathan Quick only added to the special feeling. Matt Rempe ignited the fan base in the second half of the season. And above all else, Igor Shesterkin elevated his game to another level this postseason, reinforcing the idea that this team could win it all.

“Whenever you got that guy in net, you always have a chance,” praised Fox. “Even two years ago –and this year was no different.”

Panthers coach Paul Maurice called Shesterkin “brilliant” in this series, when he finished with a .935 save percentage and one massive stop after another when the Rangers were on the ropes.

The 2022 postseason run had a slightly different feel. That team had been excellent, finishing second in the Metropolitan Division with 52 wins and 110 points in coach Gerard Gallant’s first season. However, it felt like that team was ahead of schedule, having missed the playoffs in the prior four seasons while in the midst of a rebuild.

Examining the past three postseason runs, there’s one consistent hiccup that’s prevented the Rangers from returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2014 — a lack of offensive production.

The Blueshirts have mustered just two goals in their last three season-ending losses. They fell 2-1 in both 2022 and 2024 and were shut out by the Devils in Game 7 of the first round in 2023.

“It was difficult to score,” Peter Laviolette said after his first year at the helm came to a bitter end. “We knew that coming in [the Panthers] weren’t giving up a lot. You look at the scores, you look at the games, low-scoring one-goal games, and ultimately, I think just trying to find that next goal inside of the game could be the difference.”

The Rangers scored 12 goals over the course of the six-game series. It was reminiscent of each of the previous two postseasons, when Shesterkin’s excellent play in net was not enough to carry a struggling offense to series wins.

It will spawn a lot of painful talk about missed chances and what-ifs.

“One goal games, you think about every little play, every missed opportunity, every mistake, and it hurts,” Fox added. “When games are that tight, it sits with you, every little play you maybe could’ve done differently.”

Whether it’s Jack Roslovic missing high on an open net in Game 6 or Zibanejad whiffing on a bouncing puck a bit later, those moments will be nitpicked and replayed, just like Ryan Strome’s whiff in 2022 or Rick Nash’s open look that was blocked in the decisive Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

“Not a lot of answers right now. Nobody gave up,” Trouba said. “The effort to compete was there, we just came up short.”

Five of the six games were decided by one goal, with the Rangers being within one goal in the third period of every single game in the series. It’s not much consolation for a team that’s been to the Eastern Conference Final twice in the past three years but failed to get past Game 6 both times.

“When you start something like this, you do it to go all the way,” said Laviolette. “Nobody was expecting to be on this end of it. You’re expecting to come in here tonight, win a hockey game, and bring it back to MSG for a Game 7. There’s a disappointment that goes with that.”

Particularly for a team that had its sights set on a Stanley Cup Trophy from day one, moral victories don’t factor into the equation.

Barclay Goodrow put the feeling into words simply but eloquently.

“It sucks.”

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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