As New York Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist skated back onto the ice after Boston Bruins’ forward Gregory Campbell scored an empty net goal in the final minute of the third period, he hung his head low and peered down on the ice in great disappointment.
The Rangers’ last game of the year, a 3-1 loss to the Bruins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, was indicative of the team’s main theme throughout the year: a team with high aspirations that fell terribly short.
Coming off a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Rangers were projected by many to win the Stanley Cup or at least reach the Cup Finals. They had the best goaltender in the world in Lundqvist to go along with a strong young defensive core, playoff tested forwards and a superstar acquisition in Rick Nash.
In reality, this Rangers team did not live up to the grandiose expectations that were laid on them.
Struggling to even make the playoffs, the Rangers’ shortcomings were exposed when matched up against a deep, balanced, physical, driven and experienced Bruins team, one that has remained essentially intact from their Stanley Cup Championship run in 2011.
Depth was the biggest reason for the Rangers’ demise this postseason, as they lost All-Star defenseman Marc Staal, defenseman Anton Stralman and forward Ryane Clowe to injury and could not get consistent production from all four lines. That even necessitated the benching of veteran forward Brad Richards, who teamed with head coach John Tortorella to win the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins, in contrast, got production up and down the lineup. They fed off the play of rookie sensation Torey Krug and the play of fourth liners Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Campbell, each of whom put unrelenting pressure that the Rangers could not contain.
The Rangers did not have the requisite intensity to play with the Bruins until the last game and a half. They failed to consistently maintain a forecheck and spent way too much time in their own zone, which made them rely too heavily on Lundqvist.
All the credit in the world to them for taking advantage of a couple miscues by Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask and for willing themselves to victory in Game 4 to avoid a sweep. However, the Rangers were never going to make history and climb out of their 3-0 deficit. It was too little too late for them. The Bruins were the better team, and the Rangers were not good enough to match their success from last year.