The 2023-2024 New York Rangers: A historic - but unsuccessful - season that will be remembered for a long time

New York Rangers v Florida Panthers - Game Six
New York Rangers v Florida Panthers - Game Six / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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It has been 30 years since the New York Rangers last won the Stanley Cup, since the last time we heard Sam Rosen say "the waiting is over," since the last time we saw the Blueshirts as the last team standing, since Lord Stanley had its home in New York.

Since those magical days in 1994, the New York Rangers have had accomplishments- two Presidents' Trophies, five conference finals appearances, a Stanley Cup appearance in 2014 - that most other teams cannot boast. But, its been 30 years since New York has achieved the ultimate goal.

Winning a Stanley Cup.

In these 30 years of Rangers hockey, fans have been lucky to watch some of the best players to ever play in the NHL - Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr, Henrik Lundqvist - wear a blue sweater, but the team still came up short every year.

And, somehow, the 2023-2024 New York Rangers felt different. Maybe it was the accomplishments, such as the franchise record 55 wins and 114 points, or the career-best (and Hart-worthy) performance of star player Artemi Panarin, or the elite-level goaltending that Rangers fans have become all too accustomed to in Igor Shesterkin.

All this goes to say that these Rangers felt different, and they were. But, New York failed to achieve the ultimate goal, and that was solidified after a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday night. The Rangers - who achieved more than most and looked more primed than most teams to make a Stanley Cup run - fell up short once again, and it's going to sting for a while.

What made this Rangers team so special? Well, a lot of things, including the heroics of Panarin, Shesterkin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Vincent Trocheck, Alexis Lafreniere or someone else, on any given night. Though the Rangers never made it easy, they found ways to win over and over again. New York led the NHL in comeback wins throughout the regular season (28), and could never be counted out.

New York faced adversity throughout the season. They lost their best defensemen in Adam Fox to a leg injury for a month, Shesterkin was hurt for a portion of time, and most importantly, Filip Chytil, who was expected to be New York's No. 2 center and have another breakout season - missed 78 games due to ongoing concussion issues.

Still, from the early parts in the season, the Rangers were able to find a response. Whether it was Jonathan Quick, who became the first New York goaltender to have a 9-0-1 record in his first 10 games as a Blueshirt, or Vincent Trocheck, who some thought was a bad contract but put up career-highs in points and was an NHL All-Star, it was clear the Rangers were a good hockey team.

The regular season was not all easy. Come December and especially January, New York faced more adversity and losing streaks, and there was a legitimate question of whether the team was built to compete come playoff-time.

After the All-Star break, the Rangers did what they'll be known for for a long time: respond. New York reeled off seven straight wins, six coming after the All-Star break and restored confidence in an entire city that this team could be the one that finally does it.

Think of all the memorable wins the Rangers had - the Stadium Series comeback against the Islanders, an Igor Shesterkin masterclass against the Hurricanes on March 12, the win against the New Jersey Devils on April 3 where over ten players got ejected.

There is a lot to remember. Matt Rempe became one of the best stories in the NHL and the Rangers rode this fame. Alexis Lafreniere had by-far the best season of his career and his ceiling is limitless. Panarin was incredible all season. New York had so many storylines and it all fed into the aura of how special and different this team could be.

Even the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs felt different. Yes, the Washington Capitals were not a worthy opponent, but New York won in four games, achieving their first sweep since 2007. Then, after jumping out to a 3-0 series lead against the Carolina Hurricanes, New York was faced with adversity after two straight losses. But, what did they do? The same thing they've done all year: respond.

The Rangers found themselves down 3-1 and 20 minutes away from a third-consecutive loss and the Hurricanes forcing a Game 7. But, Chris Kreider, who will be the last Ranger ever to wear the No. 20, scored a natural hat trick in the third period and the Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Kreider joined Mark Messier (in 1994!) and Wayne Gretzky (yeah, that good) as the only Rangers to score natural hat tricks in one period in the postseason.

Then came the series against Florida, and it looked like the Rangers had what it took to win, especially after reeling off two straight overtime wins to take a 2-1 lead in the series. But, then flaws came through and Florida overpowered the Rangers. New York couldn't score on the power play, the penalty kill got worse as the series went on and stars - mainly Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin - had rough series.

With that, the Rangers team that made history and "had it all" finds itself on a long list of talented Blueshirts teams that failed to reach the ultimate goal.

Is it fair to say the Rangers didn't have enough to get the job done? Maybe. Maybe they ran into a better team in the Florida Panthers, and as the series went on, they ran out of steam. But, when it came down to it they were second-best in a dog fight of a series with two good goaltenders, and Saturday night they met their fate.

Though they didn't do it, this New York Rangers team had what it took to win the Stanley Cup from top to bottom, whether an elite top six or arguably the best goaltender in the league. That's why they drew comparisons to the 1994 team. But, there were differences - mainly a captain in Jacob Trouba who had more bad moments than good, average 5v5 play and a lack of grittiness that the 1994 Rangers had - that became apparent at the worst time.

That's why it's going to hurt for a long time. Fans will continue to dream of Messier, Richter, Leetch and Graves who centered the last team to bring Lord Stanley to New York. Can the next team to do it be these Rangers? Possibly. It just wasn't this year.

As a long offseason begins, its likely the Rangers run it back with the same core thats been around. Regardless of the playoff performance, New York will have one of the best forward groups in the league to start the 2024-2025 season, with players including Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider, Trocheck and Lafreniere. They'll have one of the best defensemen in the league in Fox and one of the best goalies in the league in Shesterkin.

But, the biggest questions will be what needs to be added around this core for the Rangers to finally win a Stanley Cup. Important players - Filip Chytil, Jimmy Vesey, Will Cuylle, K'Andre Miller, to name a few - are set to return, but Chris Drury needs to make a move that will put New York over the top.

There will also be key departures, including potentially Trouba, who seems to be wearing out his welcome as the Rangers' captain. The captain needs to be the center of success, not defeat, and Trouba was the latter this offseason. If the Blueshirts decide to move on, the next captain could be Trocheck or Kreider, who both showed exemplary leadership traits throughout the regular season and postseason.

New York needs to do whatever it takes to achieve the ultimate goal.

The Rangers have done what not many have been able to the past three years, including two conference finals appearances and winning the Presidents Trophy. That's history, but not the type the Rangers want. We can talk all we want about how this team looked different, felt different, WAS different; but, there were still flaws that led to its demise.

There's one goal, the Stanley Cup. New York needs to go through all means to reach it.