NEWARK, N.J. (WFAN/AP) — The top-seeded New York Rangers were expected to be reach the Stanley Cup Finals after dominating the Eastern Conference during the regular season.
They were beaten 3-2 on Friday night after Adam Henrique scored 1:03 into overtime to end Game 6 and crushed New York’s visions of a second Stanley Cup title since 1940.
While the Devils move on to face the Western Conference champion Los Angeles Kings, the Rangers will be wondering what could have been. New York hasn’t won the Cup since 1994, a special run that including a stirring seven-game conference finals victory over the Devils.
There were no guarantees or hat tricks this time from iconic, but now retired captain Mark Messier or anyone else. No timely goal to complete their last two almost comebacks, either.
Having to dig out of such early holes took a lot out of the Rangers, perhaps more than enough to derail their chances to come all the way back and leave the ice with wins.
“For sure,” forward Brandon Prust said. “We always wanted to come out and get a good start, and we didn’t do that.”
No team has won the Stanley Cup after being pushed to seven games in the first two rounds, as the Rangers were, and New York would’ve needed to outlast the Devils in seven, too, just to get to the finals. New Jersey took out Florida in seven games in the first round before steamrolling Philadelphia in five in the second.
However, Rangers coach John Tortorella didn’t use his club’s extended play as an excuse for what must feel like an early exit from the playoffs.
“No. I disagree with you guys on that. That has nothing to do with it,” Tortorella said. “I thought the past couple of games, the second and third periods, we were the better team.
“It has nothing to do with being tired. This is part of learning to play. I couldn’t be happier how we responded after, again, a pretty shaky first period. I thought we were in a good spot going into that overtime.”
The Rangers had a good chance to end it right at the beginning of the extra session, but were thwarted by Henrique. The Devils came down the other end, and Henrique netted the winner near the right post after a wild scrum in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
“When it’s over, it’s such an empty feeling,” Lundqvist said. “Even when you win, it’s weird that it’s over. I’m going to probably be pretty tired for a couple of weeks, sit down and reflect on what happened, try to learn something. It is shocking when it’s over.”
In Game 5, the Rangers tied the game 3-3 early in the third period, only to be beaten in the closing minutes of regulation on a goal by fourth-liner Ryan Carter. Carter struck again in Game 6, scoring the first of New Jersey’s two goals in the first period when the Devils built their latest early lead.
Ruslan Fedotenko and captain Ryan Callahan scored 3:54 apart in the second period to tie it at 2. The inability to net the third goal, even while carrying play in the third, proved costly.
“We talked about changing nothing,” defenseman Marc Staal said of the Rangers’ mindset going into overtime. “Keep going at them, and I thought we did that. We had a great first shift and we almost scored. Then they find the puck in the scrum and put it in.
“The way we battled, the character of the guys in this room is next to none. All playoffs long we were resilient, and it makes it that much harder when you lose a game like this.”
The Rangers now know just how the Philadelphia Flyers feel. After keeping the Devils down in the regular-season race in the Atlantic Division, the Rangers ran into the same buzz saw as the Flyers and got run out of the playoffs by their area rival.
New York won the series opener at Madison Square Garden, but then dropped four of five — including three in a row.
Their once storybook season came crashing down.
The thought of not having a practice to attend on Saturday was already hitting the Rangers hard in a quiet, disappointed dressing room just moments after the final loss.
“I don’t think we were really prepared for that feeling,” Prust said. “It’s definitely a weird feeling.”
“All the work you put in for two months (of playoffs), eight months really, it hurts,” Lundqvist said. “This is going to take a while to get over.”
Rangers fans, was this a season of disappointment or should the Blueshirts hold their heads high? Share your thoughts below…
(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)