As the New York Rangers took their final bow on home ice after a 2-0 Game 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, it is easily agreeable that Rangers’ fans thoughts were filled with disappoint, disbelief, and probably some anger. Their perfect record on home ice in Game 7’s has come to an end (7-0, now 7-1) and so has the 2014-2015 season. Of course, everyone will be disappointed that the Rangers could not advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, but this was definitely a memorable and historic season for our Blueshirts.
This team truly came together during the regular season and had battled back from devastating injuries to extreme doubt. With core players going down, this group of players came together and individually each one stepped up to achieve regular season greatness, the President’s Trophy.
The beginning of the season saw the Rangers start out 5-4 with some lingering questions. Can the Rangers make another run to the Cup? Should they keep prospect Anthony Duclair up in the major leagues? Can we be patient with J.T. Miller? All of these questions, among others were in the back of everyone who works for the organization’s mind.
With old faces who were vital to the Cup run last year leaving due to free agency; Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot, etc., General Manager Glen Sather was forced to fill in the missing gaps. He brought over the Boston College rookie phenom Kevin Hayes from the Chicago Blackhawks, added a fourth liner with Tanner Glass, some depth with Lee Stempniak, and tried to replace Stralman with veteran blue liner Dan Boyle. Sather also acquired defenseman Matt Hunwick, who turned out to be one of their most reliable players when in the lineup.
The Rangers did not really hit their stride until the month of December, which put them on a eight game winning streak. From December on, the Rangers were firing on all cylinders and were extremely difficult to slow down. On January 31, 2015, their goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was struck by a puck in the throat. After being down for several minutes, he stayed in to finish the game and come out with a 4-1 victory. He then played the next game as well, before he was put on the disabled list due to a vascular injury. Backup goaltender Cam Talbot came in and after a few minor hiccup games, the Rangers saw themselves quickly rising up the standings to challenge for number 1 in the division, conference and the league.
With Lundqvist down and Talbot as the mainstay in net, critics had the Rangers facing deep trouble. Yet, just like all season long, they found ways to win and hardly missed a beat. The “Goalbuster” did a fascinating job holding down the fort while Hank was out and has raised his stock as a potential starting goaltender for a new team in the upcoming seasons.
Rick Nash led the way on offense where he broke his career total in goals and quieted any critics on his disappointed playoff run. Nash finished the season first on the team in goals and points (42 goals & 69 points). J.T. Miller has finally become a mainstay in the roster as well and definitely will become a major player in the lineup in the upcoming years. Rookie Kevin Hayes had a fantastic rookie season with seventeen goals and forty five points.
After winning the division, the conference, and finishing first in the entire league while setting a franchise record in points (113) and clinched home ice throughout the entire playoffs. In the postseason, the Rangers saw themselves match up against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. New York ousted Crosby and the Penguins in five games thanks to an overtime goal by Carl Hagelin. The unfortunate part of the series saw fan favorite Mats Zuccarello leave Game 5 after taking a Ryan McDonagh slapshot to the head and did not return for the rest of the postseason.
The second round, the Rangers matched up against the Washington Capitals. After Washington took a commanding 3-1 series lead, the “Comeback Kids” did it again and forced a Game 7. In overtime, Derek Stepan put away the game winning goal to clinch the series and see the Rangers return to the Conference Finals for the third time in four years. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Rangers faced the Tampa Bay Lightning. After a tough series, the Rangers suffered their first home Game 7 loss in franchise history and were knocked out of the playoffs.
This past Monday saw the team clean out their lockers and we learned some interesting facts. Ryan McDonagh played with a broken foot, Marc Staal played with a hairline fracture in his ankle, Dan Girardi had an MCL sprain, Keith Yandle played with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder, Jesper Fast played with a spinal contusion, and of course, Zuccarello had a brain contusion, small skull fracture, could not speak for a couple of days and could not move his arm. He is fully functioning now and expected to make a full recovery.
Now the biggest questions for the offseason is who stays and who goes. Players such as Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan are free agents who are going to be looking for big money. The front office has to also decide whether or not to bring back Martin St. Louis. It will be an interesting offseason for sure, but one thing is for certain, October cannot come fast enough.