GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The separate emotions associated with loss and losing, though intertwined, are not quite the same. But either can leave a grown man choked up.
These Rangers gathered for breakup day on Monday at the Madison Square Garden Training Center with feelings still rubbed raw both over the sudden end to their season in Saturday’s Game 6, 2-1, road loss to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final and knowing the hockey truth that no group ever returns fully intact the next season.
The latter is what left Ryan Strome — weeks from being an unrestricted free agent as he likely faces his second departure from New York and possibly a day from learning he needs core-muscle surgery — with a cracked voice. Chris Kreider, the longest-tenured Ranger, is not going anywhere. But missing out on a second chance to play in the Stanley Cup Final still had him devastated enough that concerned linemate and close friend, Mika Zibanejad, chose to return to the interview room after his own media session to stand by the doorway and provide emotional support.
For any speculation that fans sometimes take losing, or loss, harder than the players, we argue in the opposite with Examples A and B.
“It’s funny, you go on a great run like that and so many people reach out and tell you how proud they are of you, of your group,” Kreider said as he gave his first answer, already choked up. “But, right now, it stings. It’s hard to be proud a couple of days after you get bounced like that.”
The last question directed at Kreider was about opponents matching their best checking line against Zibanejad throughout the playoffs. That, too, was almost too much for Kreider to handle.
“I couldn’t be more proud of his response,” said Kreider, the pauses getting longer and longer between each word. “It’s just very contagious when your leader, the best player on your team, a guy that does everything for you rises to the challenge, night in and night out.”
Kreider had also addressed how tight-knit these Rangers are. Make that were, since there are bound to be offseason changes.
Strome, coming off a two-year, $9 million deal, seems destined to be one of those changes despite his compatibility with Artemi Panarin centering the second line. President/general manager Chris Drury faces tough, salary cap decisions.
“Whatever happens, happens. I can’t predict the future,” said Strome, at 28 a potential UFA for the first time. “All I know is I love these guys. I think we have some unfinished business. This team is destined for great things in the future. We’ll see what happens. It’s a little emotional, honestly. It’s a great group of guys and I hope there’s more.”
If Saturday’s loss was Strome’s last as a Ranger, he has no regrets about trying to play through a pelvic injury that affected both his left and right groin and abdominal muscles. He missed Game 4, returned for Game 5 but logged just 8:42 in Game 6 before exiting after two periods.
“Me playing and other guys playing through what they played through I think inspires everybody,” Strome said. “I think it was the right decision.”
Strome was traded to the Rangers on Nov. 16, 2018, just 17 months after the Islanders had traded him to the Oilers.
The native of Mississauga, Ontario admits he’s become an adopted New Yorker after the Islanders drafted him fifth overall in 2011 and he’s now spent four seasons with both the Islanders and Rangers.
“My heart is here,” Strome said. “When [then-Oilers GM] Peter Chiarelli called me and said I got traded, he said, ‘It’s not done yet so I’ll call you back.’ I had to wait like 40 minutes. When I found out it was the Rangers, I’m like, ‘Holy heck.’ That was probably the last team I ever expected. Playing for the Rangers has been a dream come true. I never thought, getting drafted by the Islanders, that it would happen.”
Strome ended his media session walking around the room and shaking everybody’s hand, the only player to do so.
It sure felt like goodbye.
And that kind of loss can be just as emotional as losing.