Rangers must find missing pieces to puzzle

The Rangers look on after losing Game 6

The Rangers look on after losing Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. (May 25, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

Scotty Bowman, the coach of nine Stanley Cup champions, said of the playoffs: "You can never be too deep or too healthy."

In the case of this season's edition of the Rangers, you could have added "too skilled" or "have too much offense."

During the regular season, the Rangers rode a shot-blocking, shut-down defense and a Vezina finalist year from Henrik Lundqvist and finished with 51 wins and 109 points to earn the top seed in the East.

In many ways, the Rangers, who many NHL observers predicted would finish between sixth and 12th in the East, overachieved, and as coach John Tortorella repeatedly said, "were the sum of its parts." Yet they made the deepest run for the franchise since 1997.

To be sure, offensive creativity and skill are missing pieces of the puzzle.

Outside of Marian Gaborik's 41 goals, only two Rangers (Ryan Callahan, 29, and Brad Richards, 25) netted more than 20. Of the 16 playoff teams, the Rangers ranked 11th in goals scored.

The fifth-ranked penalty-kill during the regular season covered up the deficiencies in the No. 23-ranked power play, ahead of only Chicago and Phoenix among the 16 playoff teams.

In 20 playoff games, the Rangers scored only 43 goals (11 from defensemen) and their opponents had 41. But when the Rangers needed to score the most, as their defense and goaltending faltered a bit in the Eastern Conference finals, they had 14 goals in six games to the Devils' 15.

The poor first periods, especially against the Devils, who outscored the Rangers 7-1 in the first 20 minutes of games, were huge in the series loss. In the final three games against New Jersey, they never had a lead and the power play was 0-for-6.

"Got kicked a little bit early in this game here," Tortorella said in his postmortem in Newark on Friday. "But we got our swagger back, and I really thought we were coming. But again, we don't score the big goal and they score one."

Management knew the team needed more scoring punch at the trade deadline and offered a package for Columbus power forward Rick Nash that was said to include Brandon Dubinsky, defenseman Tim Erixon, 2011 No. 1 draft pick J.T. Miller, other prospects and picks. Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson stood firm and general manager Glen Sather refused to overpay. But he did not secure any other offensive depth, acquiring only Blackhawks enforcer John Scott, who was never a factor.

So the season -- which started in Stockholm, hit the halfway mark with a win at the Winter Classic and fizzled out in Newark -- ended with a whimper, not a bang. The Rangers were 24-12-5 on the road in the regular season but were 4-5 in the postseason, including two straight losses at Prudential Center.

Did all the sacrifice for the seeding matter? Maybe not in today's NHL. The Rangers were 10-10 in the playoffs. The Canucks, who had 51 wins and earned the top seed in the West, went 1-4 in a first-round ouster by the eighth-seeded Kings, who will face the sixth-seeded Devils starting Wednesday to determine who wins the Stanley Cup.

To be fair, the Rangers never had it easy in April and May. The six Stanley Cup champions since the lockout -- the Bruins, Blackhawks, Penguins, Wings, Ducks and Hurricanes -- always had either a sweep or a 4-1 series win in one of the rounds. The Rangers played seven against the Senators and Capitals and were a goal away from forcing a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden against the Devils.

Instead, only the construction workers hammering away at another phase of the transformation will be there.

Sather and Tortorella will be retrofitting the Rangers this offseason as well.

There are decisions to be made on eight unrestricted free agents, including Martin Biron, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust, and restricted free agents Michael Del Zotto and Anton Stralman. There also are the trade and free-agent markets to explore.

Let the summer begin.

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