After their loss to the Los Angeles Kings in five games in the Stanley Cup Final last spring, the Rangers' playoff mantra had been "Change the Ending."
Well, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night, the ending did change.
But rather than getting another chance to try to hoist the Cup, the Blueshirts saw their season come to a quiet finish with a surprisingly docile 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden.
"It's hard to get back [to the Finals]," said Martin St. Louis, who scored one goal in the postseason. "Tough group. We played hard. It's not going to feel good for a while."
After the teams totaled 40 goals in six games, all it took was one to send the Rangers home for the summer and the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks or Anaheim Ducks.
Alex Killorn's backhander at 1:54 of the third period slid past Henrik Lundqvist through a screen by Valtteri Filppula to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. The Rangers couldn't generate enough offense to solve Ben Bishop, who shut out the Blueshirts for the second time in three games and made 22 saves.
The Rangers lost three home games in one series for the first time since being ousted by the Islanders in 1982. They were blanked for the final 145:43 at the Garden and totaled four goals in the four games played there. But they scored 17 goals in the three games in Tampa, and road teams were 5-2 in the series, winning the last four games.
The odds favored the Rangers, who won the Presidents' Trophy with 113 points to secure home-ice advantage throughout the postseason and who eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games and the Washington Capitals in seven to reach this point. But home ice and experience didn't help.
The Rangers had to come back from a 3-1 deficit against Washington and had to come back from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits in this series. "We could probably look back at it and say we chased too many series and we just ran out of juice," Derek Stepan said.
The Rangers' best chances came midway through the third period from Derick Brassard's line, but Ondrej Palat scored off a rush from the left side after a pass from Tyler Johnson, beating Lundqvist just past his extended glove at 11:17 for the insurance goal.
The Rangers had been 7-0 in Game 7s at the Garden and had won each of the last 10 games when facing elimination at home. Those numbers now are in the archives.
"This one's pretty tough," Dan Girardi said. "Even though we had a good record in Game 7s, you can't just show up and win."
With the game scoreless in the second period, the Rangers failed to convert on two power plays. Brenden Morrow went to the box for hooking Rick Nash at 3:41 and the Rangers had an extra skater after the Lightning had too many men on the ice at 7:46. But the Rangers managed only two shots total, both by Ryan McDonagh, who played 8:04 after skating only three shifts in the first and played with an undisclosed broken foot.
"[We missed] opportunities on the power play," Nash said. "That's a huge difference in the game. We didn't test [Bishop] as much as we should have. In a career, you don't get too many opportunities to play on a team like this and get that opportunity to win a championship. I'm pretty upset."
Lundqvist had several big saves to keep the game scoreless after two periods, the best of which was with his pad to deny Johnson, who was alone in front with 1:34 left in the second. But it wasn't enough.
"We were the best team in the NHL during the season, so you were looked on to win the whole thing," Marc Staal said. "It's disappointing. Obviously, we didn't get there. We were one period away from going to the Finals. We'll be back in this position again."