Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Singing the Blues

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Singing the Blues

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- This was a Rangers season rooted in heartbreak, one whose seeds were sown this time last year, when a loss in the Stanley Cup Final spawned the mantra that guided this year's mission.

Change the ending.

But a season that sprouted from heartbreak ended there, too, a shocking shutout loss at home Friday night that changed the ending all right, but only by sending the Rangers home one round earlier than a year ago. One round short of getting their coveted shot at redemption, the Rangers were left to drop to their knees in dejection, rising to participate in the traditional postgame handshake line between combatants, skating off the ice to face the worst kind of off-season sports has to offer.

The next best chance to win the franchise's first title since 1994 was wasted again, lost in one shocking puck slithering between Henrik Lundqvist's legs, a breakthrough third-period goal by Lightning center Alex Killorn that reduced all of the head-standing work Lundqvist had done through two periods to an afterthought, that put the harshest spotlight of all on a Rangers offense that couldn't score for the second straight game at home.

"It's painful right now, it really is," Lundqvist would say later.

There is no way to mask it: A 2-0 loss to the Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final marks this season as a colossal disappointment. We know it, and the Rangers know it, too. This was a season cast in Cup-or-bust stakes from the start, no matter how much Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh insisted afterward, "We had a great run. We should be proud in here, too."

This is not how they expected it to end.

"We haven't shied away from saying that our ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup," coach Alain Vigneault was saying again this week, repeating the truth he has shared all season. "We haven't shied away from saying that we know we're going to be judged by our playoff success."

The verdict is in, and the Rangers lost. Despite doing what they needed to do in the regular season, topping the entire National Hockey League in overall standings, a Presidents' Trophy title that set up what was supposed to be a magical Friday night in Manhattan, guaranteeing the Rangers home-ice advantage all the way to the Stanley Cup, they couldn't earn the payoff.

"We just weren't able to beat them to four [wins]," Derek Stepan said. "That's all it comes down to. We get it to a Game 7 on home ice and it just wasn't there for us tonight."

Instead, for the first time in franchise history, they lost a Game 7 on Madison Square Garden ice, breaking a string of 10 straight home victories with elimination on the line. They lost because they couldn't score, shut out at home for the second straight playoff game, left to rue the most damning statistic of all: four goals in four home games, compared to 17 goals in three games down in Tampa. …

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