Rangers let opportunity slip away with first round loss to Devils
The regret will probably linger with this Rangers group, regardless of what happens with the uncertainty of a hockey offseason.
This, after all, was supposed to be the Rangers’ year, based on the talent in the room, the way it all bloomed last playoffs and what came in this season in the form of trades for Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko.
But the Blueshirts are going home after the first round, thanks to their neighbors and rivals, the New Jersey Devils. The Devils were way too fast for the Rangers during their seven-game tussle and they stormed back from a two-game deficit, thumping the Rangers, 4-0, in Game 7 Monday night at The Rock.
Several stunned Rangers sat glumly at their lockers afterward. They knew they squandered what could’ve been a big chance get past them. There was credit granted to the Devils, sure, but painful, honest self-evaluation, too, including recriminations and sorrow.
“I’m beating myself up pretty good,” said Chris Kreider, on ice for all four Jersey goals.
The Rangers endured outsized expectations all season in the wake of last year’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals. They even put high hopes on themselves, knowing their personnel and potential.
“I think from the start of the season, before the first game, we had expectations to win a Stanley Cup,” defenseman Adam Fox said. “Obviously, last year, maybe no one expected us to go that far, but I think we believed in ourselves to be able to do that.
“And, you know, when you go that far, there’s expectations. You make moves at the deadline and, of course, we appreciate getting those types of players and the belief that we can do that. So this does feel like we missed an opportunity. But they’re a good team. And of course we’re a confident group in here, but we just fell a little short.”
The Rangers could not solve 22-year-old Akira Schmid, the goalie who saved the series for the Devils after he became the starter in Game 3 with only 24 games of NHL experience under his belt. Nor could they cope with the Devils speed. There was lots of lamenting about how Jersey got loose on odd-man rushes, which cranked up the pressure on Igor Shesterkin.
“We had some chances,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Their goalie played really well. Our goalie played well – it could’ve been 7-2 or 7-3.”
He also said, “They took it to us at times with their speed.”
The Rangers gave up the crucial first goal on a bad play – Ondrej Palat wrested the puck from two Blueshirts, Fox and Kreider, and fed Michael McLeod in front. “I’ll take the blame on that,” Fox said. “It was a mistake and obviously hurt to let them get that first one.”
Those are part of the nuts and bolts on why the Rangers lost Game 7, but this will hurt deeper than those mistakes. Despite the series going to the limit, the Rangers will have to marinate in this disappointment because of what might have been.
“Every team in the playoffs, you’ve got to be the best team to advance,” Kreider said. “You have to get to your game, play your game. And we weren’t able to do that consistently.”
Asked if the talent and big dreams the Rangers had might intensify the feelings after the loss, Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said, “For sure. I mean, every year, you kind of have that same feeling.
“You don’t know how many kicks at the can you’re gonna get. Tomorrow’s never given, especially in this league. It definitely stinks. It feels like we let an opportunity slip away. Give (the Devils) credit – it’s not just this room failing. They played well and had an incredible regular season.”
Now New Jersey is moving on. They’ve got a second-round date with the Carolina Hurricanes, beginning Wednesday.
The Rangers? They’re left to wallow and wonder about their next chance. It’s not a comfortable feeling. Will it be next year? How could they possibly know?