The New York Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs on Friday night with a 3-2 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils. However, Rangers fans aren’t hanging their head in shame, nor should they. The Rangers have an air about them, something that just suggests better things are coming.
Coach John Tortarella has the Rangers playing their best hockey since Mike Keenean teamed up with Mark Messier and the Edmonton Oilers in New York to break a fifty-four year curse. The Rangers have arguably the best goaltender in the NHL since Martin Brodeur was in his prime, and a young, dynamic team that is learning how to win with the tutelage of Tortarella and Brad Richards. Once this team figures it out it will be scary for the rest of the NHL.
Last year, the Rangers squeaked into the playoffs before getting eliminated in five games by the Boston Bruins. This year, the Rangers might have been the best team in the NHL from start to finish, capable of beating any team at any time. Rangers fans were confident going into the playoffs, and why shouldn’t they have been? The Rangers season had a ton of monumental moments in it, from the Winter Classic victory over the Philadelphia Flyers to fighting for the President’s Trophy into the last week of the season to two Game 7 victories in the playoffs and a Game 5 win for the storybooks over the Washington Capitals that featured a game-tying goal with 7.6 seconds left in regulation, a game the Rangers would win shortly after in overtime.
Surely, the Rangers at times felt like a team of destiny. To me, and many other Rangers fans, they still do. The funny thing is, as good as the Rangers were this past season, Rangers fans expect better next year. The Rangers expect better next year. John Tortarella expects better next year. What’s more, I think everyone knows it is going to get better.
Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Michael Sauer, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Brian Boyle will all be 28 or younger when next season begins. Sauer is still trying to come back from a concussion suffered in December and is a question mark moving forward but all of the others sport a decent enough track record in the health department. Henrik Lundqvist won’t turn 31 until next April and Marian Gaborik turns 31 in Feburary. This is a Rangers team that is either in its prime or going to enter its prime with the majority falling into the latter category. Why wouldn’t Rangers fans expect this team to get better? The Rangers also figure to add some offense next season. Perhaps adding Rick Nash through a trade or Zach Parise in free agency, or just allowing their young guns to develop.
The Rangers system is still loaded with prospects like J.T. Miller, Dylan McIlrath, and Christian Thomas all waiting to take their turn on the Broadway stage. The future hasn’t looked this bright in my lifetime for the Rangers. There will be a Stanley Cup victory in the near future for the Rangers, if not several. This team is a team of destiny. It will just take an extra year for the rest of the NHL to figure it out.