New York Rangers: Tough ending shouldn’t overshadow epic ride

Jun 11, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; The New York Rangers celebrate after a goal by center Andrew Copp (18) against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period in game six of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 11, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; The New York Rangers celebrate after a goal by center Andrew Copp (18) against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period in game six of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /
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Don’t be sad because it’s over, be happy that it happened. That should be the mentality of all New York Rangers fans today.

Everyone connected with the Blueshirts will still be feeling pretty raw after the tough events of Saturday night. In a do-or-die Game Six, they were emphatically shown what it takes to reach the mountain top by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Despite once holding a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final, the Rangers proved that they are not quite on the same level as the Bolts who will now look to complete a historic three-peat.

The Lightning showed why they have become the modern day dynasty in the NHL in the way that they came back to win four straight to erase a 2-0 series deficit and advance to their third Stanley Cup Final in as many years.

The Bolts were ruthless, they were aggressive on the forecheck and they used their wealth of postseason experience to get the job done. That was perfectly demonstrated in Game Six when, seconds after Frank Vatrano had made it a tied game, Steven Stamkos scored his second goal of the game to break the hearts of the Rangers.

It was a tough, tough ending to what was a magical and epic postseason run that no-one saw coming.

And that’s why the ending shouldn’t overshadow the overall journey.

Having hired Gerard Gallant as their Head Coach, the Rangers were expected to take steps forward but this year was still seen as a development season for the franchise’s young and exciting core. However, Gallant was able to extract every ounce of potential out of this team and they finished the regular season with more than 100 points.

The kids got better and better, Adam Fox carved out another Norris Trophy caliber year, Chris Kreider finally became the player he’s long been capable of, Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin played like the elite stars they are and Igor Shesterkin established himself as one of the best goalies in the NHL. Not to mention General Manager Chris Drury being aggressive at the Trade Deadline to significantly bolster his roster with the additions of Tyler Motte, Vatrano and Andrew Copp.

All three, particularly the latter two, were huge down the stretch as the Rangers beat up on some big hitters to clinch home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Even so, the general consensus was that the roster as was currently constituted was only good enough at this point to reach the Second Round. Especially in a stacked Eastern Conference.

However, as they displayed all year long, Drury and Gallant instilled an unbreakable resilience in that locker room that spearheaded what was one of the most enjoyable postseason runs by a Rangers team in recent memory.

It was a run defined by gutsy comebacks with the Rangers facing no less than six elimination games along the way. They won five of them. That should tell you all you need to know about the makeup of this group.

They survived a seven-game series against a peak-of-his-powers Sidney Crosby, they overcame more adversity to erase a 2-0 series deficit against a stacked Carolina Hurricanes team before winning back-to-back elimination games to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals.

This Rangers team even shocked the hockey world by absolutely dominating the reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions to take a 2-0 series deficit. They feared absolutely no one.

TAMPA, FLORIDA – JUNE 11: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning shakes hands with Braden Schneider #45 of the New York Rangers after Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on June 11, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA – JUNE 11: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning shakes hands with Braden Schneider #45 of the New York Rangers after Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on June 11, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Of course, injuries piled up and the lack of experience having not been here before eventually caught up with them as the Blueshirts just ran out of gas against a team that will go down in the history books.

But what fun it was.

As many Rangers fans agreed upon on social media, this team delivered the entertainment factor time and time again. They refused to be beat, they proved they could land haymakers with the very best heavyweights and they also proved that the Stanley Cup window is well and truly wide open.

And, as our own Steve Paulus pointed out here, there’s a plethora of things to be positive about heading into the offseason.

Shesterkin has taken his crown as the second best netminder in the NHL behind Andrei Vasilevskiy, K’Andre Miller and Braden Schneider give the Rangers an elite three-headed monster on the backend along with Adam Fox, Alexis Lafrenière looks the real deal, Filip Chytil finally looks ready to be a top-six forward and there’s depth to ensure this team is a contender.

Plus, thanks to the likes of Ryan Lindgren and Barclay Goodrow, the Rangers have the heart, the character and the fight required to help this team take the next step and become a real winner in the NHL.

Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin – despite the latter’s disappointing postseason – will continue to be key pieces of the puzzle and they will spearhead any championship success this team may go on to enjoy.

Plus, this young core will only get better for the experience of going as deep as they did in the playoffs. They will also learn invaluable lessons from going up against a proven winner in the Lightning.

After all, the Lightning had to lose a hell of a lot and go through tough spot after tough spot before they reached the golden laden paths of victory. That’s worth remembering today.

Of course, there will be changes in the off-season. That is the price of doing business in a salary cap sport.

But, the Rangers have the right coach, they have an exciting and dynamic core in place and they now have the experience and the character needed to take that next step and fully scale the mountaintop.

For now, though, let’s just take a moment to reflect on what was one special season delivered by one of the most memorable New York Rangers teams in well over a decade.

We can worry about the rest later.

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