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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Hard-working Rangers need more talent

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, shakes hands with New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30), of Sweden, after the Capitals won 3-1. (April 23, 2011) Photo Credit: AP


Alex Ovechkin won't be walking through the Rangers' dressing room door anytime soon. His kind doesn't come along very often, and yesterday's series-clincher for Ovechkin and the Capitals was yet another reminder of what a special talent the Caps' captain is and how he can change a game.

The Rangers' game-changer was in net. Henrik Lundqvist can be a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, but he can't always be his team's best player.

The Rangers were a team that overachieved in many ways this season to squeak into the playoffs. A team composed of a great goaltender, a couple of good defensemen and forwards, and a bunch of guys willing to work their behinds off to get a win.

Watching Dan Girardi limp to the X-ray room after Saturday's game, after he dislocated a finger while punching Brooks Laich in the face (Girardi's glove was still on) and looked as if he might need an amputation after blocking a shot, is to be reminded that very few teams worked harder than the Rangers night in and night out this season.

But watching the Capitals, led by Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson, celebrate a convincing five-game series win is to be reminded that the Rangers need more than hard work to improve next season.

"There are areas we need to get better," John Tortorella said. "I don't think this team is fully built yet."

The next big day for the Rangers will be June 24 with the NHL draft. The chance for Glen Sather to make a trade or two to tinker with his roster starts then, followed by July 1, when the chance to sign Brad Richards to be the team's No. 1 center comes up.

Those are musts. Marian Gaborik's lost season magnified the lack of a strong center and power-play leader. Ovechkin commands his group the way a real top scorer can, and the Rangers' 1-for-20 power play in the series showed what's missing.

The temptation will be there to trade Michael Del Zotto, whose second NHL season was an even bigger bust than Gaborik's season. But Del Zotto's absence was a killer, especially this series, when the Rangers needed a young, mobile, power-play quarterback to get the Caps on their heels. Matt Gilroy did some of that work, but the Rangers were too slow everywhere to keep up with the Caps.

Decisions will be made about veterans such as Chris Drury, who was a shell of his former self because of injury, as well as Vinny Prospal, Bryan McCabe, Ruslan Fedotenko and Sean Avery. Prospal, 36, and McCabe, 35, looked their age this series. Fedotenko certainly earned a shot at another contract for all the dirty work he does.

But unless Drury is bought out or Sather can flip a bigger contract such as Wojtek Wolski for nothing, the salary cap will not allow major changes. Neither will Tortorella, who has overseen some good development of a dozen young players who are growing into their primes.

To see what Ovechkin can do, what Semin and Johansson can do, should make Rangers fans jealous. But that was a team that stunk for a good, long time, a team that didn't win a playoff series for a decade and had to be very bad before it could be even this good, which isn't even so spectacular.

The Rangers haven't needed that much bad under Tortorella. They have good young players, some more good ones on the way and a chance to tinker just enough with the roster to keep growing.

This team, though, wasn't good enough or deep enough. They found a good level during the season, but the Ovechkins of the NHL can surpass that in about as much time as it took for Ovechkin to blow by Marc Staal and score the Game 5 clincher.

The Rangers won't get an Ovechkin to fix their woes. They will have to get better or risk the same result.

New York Sports