When the New York Rangers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past Saturday at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, it marked the earliest that their season has ended since 2011. The Rangers enjoyed their second consecutive 100-point season, but the action in the National Hockey League this season was tightly contested with several teams having a legitimate chance to win it all. The Rangers faced a very formidable opponent in the first round and after being unable to keep up with the Penguins, there will be a ton of questions that New York must answer heading into the off-season.
For the past decade, goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been the face of the Rangers. Lundqvist has been one of the most dominant goalies in the National Hockey League during his career which included him winning the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie in 2012. This season Lundqvist led the NHL in saves with 1,788. But against the Pens, Lundqvist wasn’t sharp as the Penguins blitzed him for 15 goals in the five-gave series which included him being benched in three games by Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault in favor of backup goalie Antti Raanta on three occasions.
Lundqvist and the Rangers were fighting an uphill battle throughout the entire series as it was a clever game plan that was composed by Penguins head coach Mike Johnston as they pressured Lundqvist. For the series only three periods of hockey saw the Pens not score a goal. And aside from winning Game 2, the Rangers only led for roughly 26 minutes in the series as they were always in catch-up mode.
Pittsburgh came into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the hottest team in hockey as they went 27-9-1 over the last portion of the season while the combination on center Sidney Crosby, right winger Phil Kessel, and rookie Matt Murray were too much for the Blueshirts to tangle with. And the domination by the Penguins in this series shows that the Rangers must find a way to get more athletic heading into next season while also finding a consistent go-to-guy as an offensive threat.
This past season the Rangers were seventh in the National Hockey League in goals per game average at 2.84, but they didn’t have any player finish in the top 20 in the league in goals, assists, or points. And that lack of a superstar player showed up against a Penguins team that is loaded with stars as the blue-collar approach that the Rangers have used over the past few years is not longer going to cut it if they want to win the Stanley Cup. But by hook or by crook, this will be a different Rangers team next season.
Center Dominic Moore, along with defensemen Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle, and Eric Stall are all set to become unrestricted free agents and I don’t see the Rangers signing all four players as it comes down to either age and attrition. The Rangers already have roughly $53 million committed to salaries for next season which would also more than likely put them out of the running to sign Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. But make no mistake about that the Rangers must find themselves a star player that can shoulder the scoring mode in the same fashion that Lundqvist dominates between the pipes. The Rangers were hoping that left winger Rick Nash would be that type of player for them after they acquired him from the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012: However after a 42-goal season last year, injuries limited Nash to just 15 goals in this campaign.
The Rangers still have a solid core which is led by Lundqvist and defenseman Ryan McDonagh who is their captain while Vigneault is the best coaching for the this team going forward. But after being so close in the past several years, the last thing that the Rangers want to do is to revert backwards which makes this summer very important for them.