What went wrong? Not much, until the Final, as the Rangers had their best year since 1994. But a few things made a difference against the newly-crowned Kings.
Lack of Firepower. In five games, plus four overtimes, the Rangers scored 10 goals, six at even-strength, from Martin St. Louis, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh and two from Benoit Pouliot. Rick Nash disappointed, with just three goals, all against Montreal, in 25 games. The Blueshirts fizzled (2-22) on the power play; Brad Richards had one point, an assist. The effort was there; the execution wasn’t.
Size mattered. The bigger Kings wore them down, winning more battles and displaying a consistent netfront presence, screening and causing havoc in front of Lundqvist and helping clear space and rebounds for Jonathan Quick. Although the Rangers speed was a factor at times, the Kings found ways to nullify it. The Rangers also missed some critical reads on rushes and the opportunistic Kings capitalized.
Oh, those third periods. The Blueshirts, who won 25 games on the road, the best in the East, couldn’t finish in three tries in Los Angeles, were unable to control the Kings surges, and surrendered two-goal leads in Game 1 and 2. The Rangers did not score after the second period in any of the games.
Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t quite perfect. Before the series, the consensus was that if the world-class Swede could steal two games, the Rangers had a legitimate shot. He did in Game 4, and came up just short in the clincher. Quick, the best goaltender the Rangers faced in the playoffs, made the timely stops.
A War of Attrition. The Rangers played 107 games, including 25 in the playoffs, plus a handful of pre-season games out West. Derek Stepan played with a broken jaw, and the list of players who will need offseason repairs will be interesting .
5 QUESTIONS FOR THE OFFSEASON
Buy out Brad Richards?
The 34-year-old provided leadership when captain Ryan Callahan, unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension, was sent to Tampa at the trade deadline. But his game evaporated in the Final and was demoted to the fourth line, signaling that the Rangers will exercise the last-chance compliance buyout from the collective bargaining agreement and not have his $6.67-million salary cap hit for the next six seasons. The Rangers need to sign numerous younger players and the current deals with Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Marc Staal are up at the end of next season
Which Free Agents to Keep?
The Blueshirts have 11 expiring contracts, including six unrestricted free agents. Anton Stralman is likely their first priority. They have no one to replace the underrated Swede, who is just 26, but he will be costly, probably $4 million a season. Brian Boyle, who the coaching staff likely sees as valuable fourth liner, may envision himself as a third-liner somewhere at a commensurate salary. Decisions need to be made on Benoit Pouliot (currently at $1.3 million and Dom Moore at $1 million). It’s doubtful that Raphael Diaz and Dan Carcillo will be back. There are five restricted free agents, four will receive raises: Brassard ($3.2 million cap hit), Zuccarello (a bargain at $1.15 million); Kreider (worth more than $800,000), and John Moore ($840,000). Justin Falk ($975,000) won’t be kept.
Which free agents and trades to pursue?
Offensive help wanted: A top-line center and another forward with size. Colorado’s Paul Stastny appears to be the top free agent pivot available. Matt Moulson will attract attention, and rumors abound that the Sharks’ Joe Thornton (who has played with Rick Nash overseas and in tournaments) and the Jets’ Evander Kane might be shopped.
Which prospects have a shot in camp?
J.T. Miller has promise but needs to take another step; center Oscar Lindberg finished well in Hartford; Conor Allen may be ready as a seventh D. Defenseman Calle Anderson and speedy forward Anthony DuClair, who had 50 goals in Quebec Major Juniors, will get looks. The Rangers do not have a first-round pick in the draft later this month, having sent it to Tampa in the Callahan-St. Louis deal.
Will they need another assistant coach?
Ulf Samuelsson did a terrific job with the defense and penalty-kill, but is rumored to be among the top candidates for the head coaching job in Carolina, where his friend and former teammate Ron Francis is in charge.