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Dark Day but Bright Future for the Rangers

The New York Rangers were bounced from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Washington Capitals today.  Predictably, the Rangers managed to bow out of the playoffs as an eight seed in as heartbreaking and depressing a way as you could in a five game series.  But despite the heartbreak now, the Rangers have an unquestionably bright future.

How very New York Rangers of them.  Do just enough to get their fan base excited, then sink their dreams like the Titanic.  We’re gluttons for punishment some times – and we love every second of it.  The Rangers held leads in the third period in three of the first four games.  They held a lead inside seven minutes to play in game one and began the third period of game four up 3-0, but only managed one win – game three.  A win in either game one or four could have changed the fortune of the Rangers.  But it was, as it has been so often before, not to be.  It is a rough day for Rangers fans.

But it is not without hope.  This Rangers team is so different than those mercenary-esq teams from the past few years.  This Ranger team features young, budding stars to be.  Nineteen Rangers are under the age of 30, including Marc Staal – 24, Michael Sauer – 23, Ryan McDonagh – 21, Derek Stepan – 20, Brandon Dubinsky (of that brilliant ‘stache) – 24 and Artem Anisimov – 22.

Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

The Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist, consistently one of the best goalies in the game.  As a side note, is there anyone in the NHL that has it worse than Henrik Lundqvist.  Seriously, game after game you go out there and stand on your head.  The only thing keeping you from the Vezina trophy is the fact that all too often your offense is so inept that 32 saves on 33 shots isn’t good enough.  Anyway, we all know the cliche in hockey is that a hot goaltender can get you far.  Well Lundqvist is always a red hot goalie, capable of shutting down any offense.  There’s a reason why we call him ‘King Henrik.’

In front of the brilliant swede is a great young defense.  The entire Rangers defense, save for trade-deadline acquisition Brian McCabe, is under the age of 28.  A Rangers defense that this year, inexperienced as they were, was fifth in the league in goals against.  The pairing of Staal and Girardi are capable of shutting down any offense threat.  Just watch the job they did one on one against Ovechkin this entire series.  The rest of the Rangers defense corps are well skilled as well – and improving.  It is entirely possible that these Rangers, if kept together (sweet Lord please keep them together), could be the best defensive squad in the league in two or three years.

Obviously the biggest problem the Rangers have is offense, a need I’m sure they will address in the offseason and something that I’m certain will improve with another year of experience (I’m not even going to touch the fact that the Rangers may not be able to score on a power play if the opposition pulled their goalie).  One problem these Rangers don’t have?  Heart.  This as much as anything gives me hope for next year.  It seemed at times this season that the Rangers willed themselves to wins. Outgunned, out-talented, but not to be out-worked the Rangers fought and scrapped their way to many victories – and to a playoff spot for that matter.  They may not be the most gifted team, but they do the little things, the effort things.  They forecheck as well as any team in the league and are top five in the league in blocked shots.

Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

This is a characteristic I want more than any in hockey. Talent and skill are great.  But in hockey, more so than any other sport, wanting it more and working harder can get you almost as far.  This is a characteristic so well engrained in this Ranger team.  It gives me hope.  This team, with another year to grow – to improve as players – combined with the kind of effort that saw Ryan Callahan diving in front of a 100-something mile an hour slap shot from a dude that stands about seven feet tall could make this team a force to be reckoned with.

Look, I’m as unhappy as anyone with the Rangers loss.  But I refuse to be discouraged.  I saw signs of greatness from this team – great goaltending, great defense and a culture of working hard and never quitting.  So weep now, it’s a long time ’til October.  But keep your head up, because when that puck drops again, the Rangers are going to be heard from…maybe not on the power play, but at even strength, they’ll be heard of!

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