BOSTON - Depth was an issue for the Rangers from the moment they started this strange season, from the first time the team gathered in January to get through a hurried training camp and try to duplicate what had been a superb season in 2011-12.
The Rangers lost too much in the Rick Nash trade and free agency to surge to the top of the Eastern Conference. They lost too much to injury to be a real threat to the Bruins, who were able to overcome injuries to a pair of their key defensemen and, when their big boys were being stymied by Henrik Lundqvist, turn to their fourth line to make the difference.
There were no what-ifs being tossed around the visitors room after Game 5 and the Rangers season ended. They were beaten by a deeper, better team, a reminder that the problems which plagued the Rangers all season long were bound to crop up again.
"We struggled to really get our personality, just to get our identity . . . I just don't think we're stiff enough," John Tortorella said after his team bowed out in five games.
The Bruins replaced Andrew Ference with Torey Krug, who scored four goals in his first five playoff games, including another laser yesterday to get Boston on the board. Lundqvist denied just about every other Bruin but Krug, who wouldn't have cracked the lineup without the injury situation.
Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton were on for four Bruins goals in the series, including the winners in Games 3 and 5. The Rangers first put out a fourth line with Brad Richards, Arron Asham and Chris Kreider; by the end, it was Micheal Haley, Kris Newbury and Derek Dorsett, with Richards in the press box as a scratch.
Again, the difference in depth, and quality of that depth, was stark. The Rangers' downfall against the Devils in the Eastern Conference final a season ago was another fourth line, Jersey's lunch-pail trio of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier, who surprised the Rangers' back-end line and defense pair with their speed and skill.
Tortorella will be back in the fall. Those around the hockey world who bristle at his news conference demeanor might well wonder where this organization would be without the coach, who demanded the Rangers start to play their youngsters and develop the team from within, not without.
He pointed out the Rangers have had 30 playoff games in the last two postseasons. "Some teams would lick their chops to do that," he said.
Tortorella also rightly pointed out that his team needs to be better in several spots. They have Nash, who shrunk in the postseason spotlight, especially when faced with Zdeno Chara shift after shift; they have still-young players like Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Kreider, who can be difference-makers. The same is true of Ryan McDonagh, who will be anchoring the Rangers blue line for years to come.
But the Rangers need more, especially from the lower reaches of the forwards and defense. Plugging the gaps with the likes of Hamrlik doesn't work anymore in the NHL, where you can't hide deficiencies this time of year.
They also need a full season of the Tortorella way, a real training camp and 82 games to restore what they built in 2011-12. As the coach said, no one had time to fortify their team for the long haul, and clubs like the Flyers and Devils never did collect themselves in time.
The Rangers did, just barely, and showed some of their former identity in gutting it out past the Capitals. But that only went so far this season with the holes the Rangers had.
Tortorella knew this team didn't have it before this season started. The lack of depth and lack of mental sharpness caught up to them Saturday. That they made it this far was more of a shock than the season ending with such a thud.