After 102 games, the New York Rangers' season has come to a disappointing finish as they lost Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final 3-2 in overtime Friday night to the New Jersey Devils. There was no magic of 18 years ago; this bunch dropped the series in six games.
New York was, yet again, put into a deep hole by giving up two goals in the first period, but rallied back to tie it with goals from Ruslan Fedotenko and Ryan Callahan. It just couldn't find that decisive one when the team clearly outchanced and dominated the Devils, ultimately falling on a scramble in front when Adam Henrique found the loose puck and popped in the goal.
The Eastern Conference's best team during the regular season had to battle for every goal and every win in these playoffs, losing in the conference finals, the furtherest the Rangers have gone since 1997.
The result makes it hard to assess with a clear head, but let's take a final look at the good and bad of the Game 6 loss.
What Went Wrong
Early Deficit: The Rangers re-wote the script that has been prevalent throughout the series: starting slowly and having to claw their way back into a game. New York was out-scored 7-1 in the first periods of this series. In this one, the Dvils went up 2-0, even though, this time, it wasn't as if the Blueshirts weren't ready. The problem early on in this game is that it seemed like the Rangers made a concerted effort to pinch their defensemen and be as aggressive as possible in the offensive zone, and they got burned by doing so because it created odd-man rushes that were tough to defend. This altered approach, to me at least, was way to out of character for a team that has just stuck with it for the entire season. It's one thing to do this in the third period, down two goals. It's another to do it in the first and as a result, dig yourself a two-goal deficit.
Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik: Let's lump these two guys together because they equally came up empty in this do-or-die game. They're also the forwards that earn the most on the team, with reasons for being able to produce in big situations. Richards was generally a very good player this postseason, making a number of big plays to keep the Rangers' dreams alive. However, after scoring two goals in the first series and four in the next, the center went goalless in the third round. Even though he notched four assists (one Friday), Richards simply wasn't enough of a factor in this game. He actually had a chance at a goal, but wound up shooting it right into the stacked pads of Martin Brodeur, instead of targetting the open part of the net. Gaborik, on the other hand, has never really been considered a big playoff performer. He had five goals in the posteason, but just one in this series and entirely was not enough of a game-changer throughout the 16 games the Rangers played. He received a series-high 23:02 of ice time because coach John Tortorella had to put his best players out there ... the winger just didn't play like one, notching four goals on net but nothing to show for it.
Steve Eminger: What's the point of even dressing a guy when he plays 2:06? He's inserted in the lineup for Stu Bickel -- presumably because he can get to pucks quicker -- then plays fewer minutes. That means five defensemen are relied upon quite heavily. This was a practice Tortorella utilized all year because he simply had no trust in the final blueliner. It's clear that sixth defenseman spot in the lineup will be an area up for grabs during next year's preaseason.
What Went Right
Comeback effort: New York came up with the requisite energy in this game, they just were too aggressive and it cost them early. The game looked to be on the brink of getting ugly, but the Rangers regained and controlled themselves by the end of the first period and throughout the game. For the second game in a row, New York tied it, this time with two goals in the second period, and tilted the ice in its favor. The Blueshirts just could not find that third goal, which could've turned the series in their favor.
Tired? It's no secret that the Rangers play a bruising, full-body style. They are physical, block shots and the coach necessitates full effort on every shift, in every zone from every player. New York's road through this series in the playoffs was not an easy one, made more grueling by the intensity in playoff games. These factors combined to lead a lot of media to call the Rangers "tired" and "out of gas." I never bought that excuse, even if New York was the more energized team at times. The players didn't either, as even though they were lethargic in every start this series, the final two games proved they had a lot more to give, with two great comeback efforts and two very dominating performances after that initial time period. The never-give-up attitude is one these Rangers have cultivated and it makes them a fun team to watch because their will is never in question. Game 6 was just another example of that.
Ryan McDonagh: The emergence of McDonagh as a premiere No. 1 shutdown defensemen was a sight to behold this season. In his second year, he became one of the league's best blueliners and made the transition easily -- at 22 years old. Even with the amount of ice time he garnered in the playoffs, he rarely appeared tired. The kid was a total stud throughout the regular season and really made a name for himself with the way he carried himself in the postseason, or more specifically, how he handled some of the league's most-skilled forwards -- physically and rarely penalized. Oh, and he was also one of the team's best shot-blockers. What did he do in Game 6? Record two assists, a plus-one rating, three shots on goal, two blocks and four hits. McDonagh played against the opponent's top forwards, he was out there literally every other shift in demanding situations and he still finished with a plus-two rating in the playoffs. Simply unbelievable.