By Steve Silverman
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There are no reasons or excuses that can make it better.
Losing in six games to the New Jersey Devils put an abrupt end to a season that had so much promise. Unfortunately for the Rangers and their legion of Broadway Blue fans, the Rangers peaked in the regular season and never played their best hockey in the postseason. That’s a classic formula for heartbreak.
The Rangers appeared to have a team that was capable of going all the way this year, but as the season reached the home stretch, there was one championship characteristic that was missing from their game. They lacked the ability to produce on the offensive end in key situations.
When I spoke to NBC hockey analyst and former Ranger Eddie Olczyk before the start of the playoffs, he talked about the Rangers’ grittiness, defensive abilities and the talent of Henrik Lundqvist.
Still, he was concerned about their ability to put the puck in the net. “What I question is who is going to put the puck in the net in clutch situations,” Olczyk asked.”They have (Brad) Richards and they also have (Marian) Gaborik, but I don’t know that they have enough. Great goaltending will take you so far, but you are going to need scoring as well. You can’t depend on your goaltender every night.”
Olczyk proved to be correct as the Rangers struggled to score goals throughout the postseason. The Rangers scored four goals in the postseason opener against the Ottawa Senators and never scored that many goals in the next 19 games.
The other aspect of the Rangers’ substandard offense was their inability to play their game when their opponent scored the opening goal. The Rangers allowed the Senators to score the opening goal in what could have been a fatal sixth game in Ottawa, but they responded by scoring the next three goals and coming up with a 3-2 victory. That was the only time in the playoff season that the Rangers gave up the opening goal and managed to come up with a win.
That’s not how championship teams play. Great teams find a way to rally and get comeback wins. In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Bruins lost the first game of the series to the Tampa Bay Lightning at home and trailed in Game 2 prior to rallying for a 6-5 victory. After that game, the Bruins had the confidence that they could score in the clutch and they had seven-game triumphs over the Lightning and the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers were every bit as strong as last year’s champions in terms of goaltending, team defense and grittiness. However, when it came to putting the puck in the net they came up short.
John Tortorella is a difficult man to please. He is blunt and direct with his players and his manner with the media is often inexcusable. But he knows how to assess his team’s strengths and weaknesses. After Adam Henrique’s goal 1:03 into the overtime period ended his team’s season, he complemented his team’s passion and competitiveness. He did not point a finger or blame anyone. But he knows that for his team to get past the Eastern Conference Finals, the Rangers are going to need more goal scoring.
It’s not about effort and passion. The Rangers had plenty – perhaps more than any other team in the league this season. But when you can’t put the puck in the net in crucial situations, you are going to come up short.
The Rangers found this out first-hand and they are now reduced to watching their neighbors compete for the prize they wanted so badly.
The wait goes on for at least one more year.
How heartbreaking was the Rangers exit? Share your thoughts below, Rangers fans…
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy).