With the Dallas Stars also in hot pursuit of the 52-year-old Quebec native, Sather made what must have been a difficult choice to give Vigneault the nod over the Rangers' own Mark Messier.
Vigneault agreed to terms with the Rangers after Friday's meeting with Jim Dolan, prior to informing the Stars he was out of the running.
Though the details are still being finalized with Vigneault still under contract with the Canucks, the hiring is imminent.
So what type of hire is this for Sather?
An important one, for sure, considering the Rangers are at a critical juncture following the dismissal of John Tortorella.
The brash, bombastic Tortorella was given the boot after the team's second-round exit from the playoffs a few weeks ago. Sather didn't explain why, but Tortorella's tough-love coaching style was believed to have worn thin with his players.
The Rangers entered the season with high expectations following a trip to the Eastern Conference finals last spring but suffered from an underwhelming performance both in the regular season and the postseason.
In need of a new message, not to mention a new tone, Sather selected Vigneault as the guy to lead the Rangers. The former Canucks coach -- fired after Vancouver was swept by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs -- is known to be a strong communicator who is skilled at identifying key roles for players within his system.
That will likely be a breath of fresh air for a group of veterans that had grown weary of Tortorella's stubborn, demanding style. Vigneault may also have an upper hand in determining the best way to use top offensive talents like Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and struggling center Brad Richards, assuming he is not bought out.
It is unclear whether Vigneault will have the opportunity to choose his own assistants or whether Sather would rather keep current assistant Mike Sullivan to maintain some continuity from the last regime.
What's also unclear is what the fallout may be, if any, from Sather's decision to choose Vigneault over Messier.
Messier, who led the Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship in 1994, also interviewed for the job this week. He is currently an executive with the team, serving as special assistant to Sather.
Another candidate the Rangers had sought out, former Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, was announced as Ralph Kruger's replacement in Edmonton on Monday.
Rangers general manager Glen Sather, looking for a coach to replace the recently dismissed John Tortorella, was believed to have been keenly interested in Bylsma. The 2011 Jack Adams Award recipient is no longer available, though, as Penguins general manager Ray Shero bucked mounting pressure following his team's third-round exit and backed Bylsma.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, Shero announced that the Penguins had given Bylsma a two-year extension.
So, who is left?
Alain Vigneault, the former coach of the Vancouver Canucks, appears to be the front-runner, although the Rangers are not the only team in hot pursuit.
It is believed that the Stars are also enamored with Vigneault, though they have recently expressed interest in others (such as Tortorella, as ESPNNewYork.com reported Tuesday).
Vigneault interviewed with Sather and fellow Rangers executives at the team's annual organizational meetings in La Quinta, Calif., on Tuesday and is believed to have made a strong case for himself.
The Rangers have also obtained permission from Buffalo to speak with Lindy Ruff, though it is not immediately clear whether they have set a firm date to interview the former Sabres coach.
And let's not forget the Rangers' own Mark Messier, who emerged as a bit of a surprising candidate on the heels of Tortorella's dismissal two weeks ago.
The former captain, now an executive within the organization, expressed interest in the position, though he has no NHL coaching experience.
The Rangers could also be interested in Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, should he become available. Though Coyotes GM Don Maloney told ESPNNewYork.com via email recently that the organization intends to keep Tippett, the team's tenuous future could be an obstacle.
During a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the possibility of relocation for the Coyotes. Quebec City and Seattle are believed to be the front-runners should the team leave Glendale, but multiple sources indicated to ESPNNewYork.com that Tippett might not necessarily be on board should the club move.
On a conference call with reporters following the Tortorella decision, Sather said he'd like to have a coach in place by the NHL draft on June 30.
The move was announced Wednesday by both teams.
In exchange for Streit, the Flyers sent a fourth-round draft pick in 2014 and 24-year-old minor-league winger Shane Harper to the Islanders.
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Though the Rangers general manager and president is convening his staff for annual organizational meetings in La Quinta, Calif., he'll likely be interested to see what his Penguins counterpart, GM Ray Shero, does with head coach Dan Bylsma in the wake of Pittsburgh's stunning exit from the postseason.
Shero, whose star-studded Penguins squad was unceremoniously swept by the Bruins on Friday, faces a difficult decision in determining whether to dismiss Bylsma, a former Jack Adams Award winner, following the shocking defeat.
The Rangers would first need permission to speak with Bylsma,considering he has time remaining on his contract with Pittsburgh.
Sather, who dismissed John Tortorella following the Rangers' second-round exit, has already sought and received permission to speak with Alain Vigneault and Dallas Eakins, though the latter is no longer available, as he was named the new head coach of the Edmonton Oilers on Monday.
Longtime Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is also a top candidate, as is the Rangers' own Mark Messier, who has expressed interest in the top job.
This collection of coaching hopefuls is expected to be a hot topic of conversation among Rangers brass this week. After firing Tortorella, Sather said he'd like to have a new coach in place by the NHL draft, to be held in Newark, N.J., on June 30.
The team's staff is also likely to address the potential buyout of alternate captain Brad Richards as well as identify some attractive unrestricted free agents to target.
The Rangers are also looking to lock up franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist long-term this summer, in addition to re-signing key restricted free agents Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan.
All you needed to know was there for all to see.
It was apparent in the team's weary performance for much of the season, shackled by a style of play that hindered creativity and seemed ill-suited for its skilled personnel.
It showed on his players' faces as they sat, stunned and dejected, in the moments after their season-ending 3-1 loss in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Boston Bruins last weekend.
And it was lurking in the subtext of what was said during the team's break-up day on Monday as the players struggled to evaluate a season that fell painfully short of expectations.
Even goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, as affable and media-savvy as they come, couldn't sugarcoat the truth or find a silver lining.
He called the team's performance a "step back," and he was right.
Sather was vague on details, specifics and future plans, but he did say this when reflecting on what he called a "decision that wasn't made lightly:"
"Every coach has a shelf life."
And we have just witnessed the end of John Tortorella's.
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NEW YORK -- John Tortorella has been dismissed as head coach of the New York Rangers, a source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com.
Tortorella was informed of the decision Wednesday afternoon, the source said.
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Frustration, regret, and bewilderment, all directed at a summer that has arrived far too soon.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, offered little more than a tepid "we’ll see" when asked about a potential contract extension.
"I’m going to talk to my agent and we’ll see," Lundqvist said. "I had such a great time here in New York. From day one, they treated me really well and [have] given me an opportunity to play a lot of hockey, so it’s been a lot of fun. I have one more year on the contract, but I’m just focused right now on trying to get over this year."
The Rangers can’t officially sign Lundqvist to a contract extension until July, but locking him up to a long-term deal has to be one of the team's most pressing priorities.
"We’ll see," Lundqvist said. "I’ll talk to my agent and we’ll take it from there."
If there is a greater concern for the Rangers than the team’s underwhelming 2012-13 season, it should be Lundqvist’s lukewarm response to his future with the organization. The Rangers will surely be willing to pay him, fittingly, a king’s ransom. But more important than money, they must also show a willingness to build a great team around him.
Signing key restricted free agents such as Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan is a must (the first two have arbitration rights, the latter does not). But it will take more than that.
If Lundqvist has concerns over the leadership and direction of the team, that input must be heeded as well, because he has done more than his part in bolstering the team with his stellar play. This season was a sobering reminder that he also needs support.
Some of his teammates were honest about their own shortcomings -- Brian Boyle said plainly: "I sucked" -- while others were not.
If Rangers forward Rick Nash truly thinks his postseason play was "good," as he said when asked to assess his playoff performance, than Lundqvist’s concern may be legitimate.
The team’s top players didn’t rise to the occasion when necessary, and that includes Nash, Brad Richards and even captain Ryan Callahan at times.
Nash and Richards were limited to one goal each in the postseason, and Richards was benched for the last two games. Callahan, who is believed to have been battling through injury, tried to set a physical tone but didn’t match the production needed.
"We set [a] goal at the beginning of the season to try to win the Stanley Cup and we underachieved," Callahan said.
One factor was the crushing expectations that came after a trip to the conference finals last spring, and another factor was an underperforming group of star players.
Some of it, coach John Tortorella admitted, was the team’s mentality, particularly in the second round against the Bruins.
"I don’t think our mindset was ready for another series, to the level you need to be at," Tortorella said. "That’s what I struggle with now. I didn’t do a good enough job in correcting and getting their mindset back."
Tortorella said he doesn’t agree with the overall negativity surrounding the team’s season -- "I don’t buy it and I won't," he said -- but Lundqvist seemed to differ.
The 31-year-old, a true heart-and-soul leader of the team, has earned the right to speak his mind without any fear of overstepping the line.
And he was honest.
"It is a step back," he said. "We were in the conference finals last year; we had high expectations on ourselves this year. It didn’t go our way, so yeah, it is a step back. It’s tough to make it. You can’t just expect it to happen."
Faced with a painfully long offseason ahead, the Rangers will have almost four months to let that sink in.
"I don’t think it was good enough," Lundqvist said. "I was hoping for more."
The 33-year-old veteran, who has seven years remaining on a nine-year $60 million deal inked in July 2011, will be a prime candidate for a compliance buyout this summer. Richards said he has long been aware that scenario exists.
“That’s been written since probably a week into the season,” Richards said of the buyout talk. “That’s the business side of it. I’m playing hockey no matter what.”
Richards described his season as a “mess” and said it was tough to watch his team be eliminated from the post-season from the press box Saturday night. He was scratched for both Games 4 and 5 of the team’s semifinal set against the Boston Bruins, before which he was limited to only one point in 10 postseason games.
It was not a fun time. There’s no other way to really put it,” Richards said. “It’s tough, but life goes on and I’ve got to regroup and figure some things out and start over.”
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1. John Tortorella’s future with the team?
Know this: John Tortorella will be back as head coach when the team reconvenes in September, and no one will be looking forward more to the resumption of his notoriously difficult training camp than him. Not having that few weeks -- critical ones in which he prides himself on being able to cultivate a tough mindset for his team -- hurt the Rangers in a lockout-shortened season. But every other coach dealt with those limitations, too. Tortorella is not on the hot seat now with all the mitigating factors in the Rangers’ second-round exit, but he will be under the microscope next season if his team falters in a similar fashion as 2013. The fiery coach admitted his own shortcomings in failing to coax the most out of his top offensive players, and he’ll have almost four bitter months to ruminate on the how and why. Tortorella can't afford to let his stubbornness impede what the team now needs, which is a revamped style of play better suited to the personnel. His star players need room to maneuver and the leash to get creative. Whether he allows that to happen could very well determine his future with the organization.
2. Brad Richards buyout?
The bold move to scratch the 33-year-old alternate captain for the last two games of the season only intensified speculation that Richards’ future with the Rangers may be in jeopardy. The struggling center, who watched from the TD Garden press box as his team was eliminated, suffered a disastrous decline that few would’ve imagined when he inked a nine-year, $60 million deal as the premier free agent two summers ago.
Plummeting from first-line center to healthy scratch in a matter of months, Richards has become a prime candidate for a compliance buyout and it has more to do with another crucial factor other than the utter deterioration of his game. In fact, the Rangers would likely have to consider exercising a buyout on the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner even if he’d have played like one. Why? The “cap advantage recapture rule” in the new collective bargaining agreement that penalizes teams for any cap benefit gained in a long-term deal in the event of a player’s early retirement.
The Rangers would be facing whopping penalties should Richards not play out the remaining seven years of his contract. Should he retire in the offseason of 2017, the Rangers would be hit with a $5.66 million penalty, $8.5 million in 2018 and a dizzying $17 million in 2019. Plus, if the Rangers don’t utilize the buyout this summer, they run the risk of Richards sustaining an injury next season. A team cannot buy out an injured player.
3. What to do with ailing power play?
Put plainly, the Rangers' woeful power-play unit, just 4-for-44 (9.1%) was absolutely dreadful in the playoffs. For much of the regular season, too. In fact, this has been something that has hamstrung the team for years as they have searched, to no avail, for a right-handed defenseman with a big shot to quarterback their power play. That will be one of the team’s top priorities this summer, since the team’s current personnel seems incapable of turning things around themselves. The Rangers are one team that also does not employ a power-play coach -- Mike Sullivan is Tortorella’s only assistant -- so perhaps a specialist could be brought in to help.
4. Offseason needs?
Beyond the glaring need for a top-four defenseman, preferably one with a big, right-handed shot that can lead the power-play, the Rangers need to address their lack of depth up the middle. Derick Brassard turned out to be an absolute gem after coming to New York in a trade at the deadline in April, but they need to upgrade from their current crop of centermen. Considering Richards could very well be bought out and Brian Boyle had a disappointing season, the Rangers need to find some help in that area. Washington’s Matt Hendricks may be an option, but the Rangers may choose to address this via trade instead. Considering the acquisition of John Moore, the Rangers could entertain the option of parlaying young blue-liner Michael Del Zotto for a talented young center while continuing JT Miller and Oscar Lindberg’s development from within the organizaion. The Rangers will also have some time to consider how to make up for the loss fo the middle-of-the-lineup guys whose absence was so conspicuous during the regular season. Think versatile, rugged, hard-nosed players like Brandon Prust, Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko.
5. Will Marc Staal be healthy next season?
The loss of cornerstone defenseman Marc Staal to a harrowing eye injury was a devastating one for the Rangers, who deeply missed his strong, steadying presence particularly in the playoffs. After taking a puck to the eye in March, Staal missed 27 games of the regular season and all but one during the playoffs as he battled lingering vision issues. Though Staal is expected to return to health, his progress to this point has to be concerning to a Rangers team that considers him the true anchor of their blue line and one of the most vital components of the team’s core group of players. Remember, the Rangers are already without promising young defenseman Michael Sauer, whose career appears to be in question after he missed the entire season with issues stemming from a concussions sustained in December of 2011. The Rangers need Staal back or else they are facing a major void on their defense -- a gaping hole that would be extremely difficult to fix.
Analysis: The Rangers finished among the top eight teams in the league, so there's that. But they failed to live up to expectations after a lengthy run last spring. With the exception of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, everyone from the coach on down was responsible for what ultimately added up to an underwhelming performance in 2013.
Analysis: The team's most maddening failure came by way of its top offensive talent -- stars who didn't step up when needed. Brad Richards, whose painfully poor performance ultimately resulted in him serving as a healthy scratch the last two games of the season, just plain deteriorated. Rick Nash was invisible at times during the playoffs. Even Ryan Callahan wasn't as effective as necessary. Bottom line: None of those players were good enough come crunch time.
Analysis: Give the Rangers' blue line credit -- they did a lot with very little, especially toward the end of the season. Losing their anchor on the back end in Marc Staal, who missed more than half of the regular season and all but one game during the playoffs with an eye injury, was a crushing blow. And missing Anton Stralman was another big loss in the final pair of games in the Rangers' second-round series against the Bruins. Top shutdown pair Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi did all the heavy lifting while depth defensemen John Moore and Steve Eminger ably stepped in to take on more minutes once injuries began piling up.
Analysis: The Rangers' power play (4-for-44, 9.1 percent) was atrocious, especially in the playoffs -- a glaring Achilles' heel that must be rectified by next season. The team lacks a true power-play quarterback and often seemed paralyzed by its own ineptitude. Don't let the last two games fool you. The unit is a big problem that needs to be fixed. During the playoffs, the penalty kill wasn't much better. The Rangers were third-worst among playoff teams with only a 75 percent success rate in the postseason.
Analysis: If there was one person who deserved to be frustrated with the season, it was Henrik Lundqvist. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner was undoubtedly the team's most consistent performer, both in the regular season and the playoffs. Had it not been for his efforts in 12 postseason games, the Rangers would have had no business making it to the second round. Lundqvist, whose strong regular season earned him a place among the three finalists for the 2013 Vezina, posted a 2.14 goals against average and .934 save percentage in the playoffs.
Analysis: It's hard to hand out a failing grade to a coach that advanced to the second round for the second straight season. But John Tortorella is certainly culpable for some of the team's shortcomings. He didn't get enough out of his star players (that much he admitted after Saturday's season-ending loss), he did nothing to turn around an anemic power play and he didn't loosen the reigns enough to spur any type of offensive creativity. Tortorella's hard-nosed, grinding style of play worked last season, but it just didn't take with this group. If the team wants to bounce back next season, he'll have to temper his approach.
Stralman’s injury only compounded the Rangers' already depleted defensive corps, which has played without Marc Staal for all but one game of the postseason.
“We don’t have our [Zdeno] Chara in [Marc] Staal,” Tortorella said, in discussing the team’s depth. “All teams go through it, so please, I’m not using that as an excuse, but it hurts. It hurts our depth. It put people in situations that, right now, I don’t think they’re ready to handle those types of minutes that there is with those players.”
In Stralman’s absence, Tortorella dressed veteran Roman Hamrlik for the last two games of the series. Prior to his Game 4 appearance, Hamrlik had not played in almost two months.
That rust showed on Saturday, when his turnover led to Gregory Campbell’s go-ahead goal at 13:41 in the third.
Derek dust-up: Rangers antagonist Derek Dorsett went to the box three times throughout the course of the game, beginning with a tandem of roughing and unsportsmanlike penalties incurred after dropping the gloves with Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton in the first period.
The scrap got so heated that the officials had to separate the two players on the ice, with Dorsett and Thornton continuing to jaw at each other from the box.
Dorsett also took slashing and tripping penalties later in the game.
Tortorella said he liked the intensity the chippy fourth-liner displayed.
“I’d rather have him at that level of not being able to control himself than a couple of other players on our team that I can’t get them to [that] level,” Tortorella said. “So, it’s much easier to have a player that way and try to tame him than to try to build a player up. I think he’s going to be an effective player for us as we move forward.”
Following the Rangers’ 3-1 loss to the Bruins in Game 5, Tortorella offered up a lot of reasons the team struggled, both during the game, the series and the entire lockout-shortened season. But he put the onus squarely on himself, too.
One of the Rangers’ most glaring deficiencies was the underwhelming performances by some of the team’s top players. He placed the blame on himself.
"I think one of the big things in this series is I could not -- and it does, it falls on me -- it’s a big part of my job to get your top players to play consistently, and I couldn’t do that," Tortorella said.
The most obvious inability to make that happen came with struggling center Brad Richards, who won a Stanley Cup under Tortorella in 2004 while with the Tamps Bay Lightning.
Richards’ play deteriorated to such a degree that he was demoted to the fourth line then ultimately scratched for the last two games.
But, he was not alone in failing to step up.
Joining the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner in a disappointing playoff performance was newcomer Rick Nash, who notched only one goal in his first postseason as a New York Ranger.
The premier winger, acquired in a blockbuster trade with Columbus this past summer, was ineffective in both the team’s series against Washington and Boston.
The 28-year-old Nash was limited to just five points in 12 games and he didn’t score his first goal of the 2013 playoffs until Game 3 of Round 2. In Game 5 on Saturday, he didn’t get a shot on goal until the third period. Nash didn't even respond when Boston's Milan Lucic tried to bully him with a brutish few shoves to the chest; he just skated away with no response.
"It’s heartbreaking," Nash said in a brief postgame interview. "We have a good team, good season, and we just couldn’t get the job done."
Though he battled through a lingering wrist issue since midseason, he insisted he wasn’t dealing with an injury.
He clearly was one of those players Tortorella couldn’t get enough from.
"We tried, and so I need to take some responsibility and try to get them in those spots to help us here. I thought that hurt us a little bit," Tortorella said.
Even captain Ryan Callahan wasn’t the same type of tone-setting sparkplug or offensive catalyst his team has come to expect, though he had two goals during the playoffs.
Callahan had one of the best scoring opportunities of the game for the Rangers, but his backhanded breakaway attempt went wide.
"It sucks," Callahan said. "There’s no worse feeling than this. We had a good team this year. It’s frustrating."
This year had a “different feel,” he kept repeating.
And it did.
The Rangers’ last game of the season -- a 3-1 loss to the Bruins -- was indicative of the team’s arc throughout the year: high hopes that ultimately fell painfully short.
“I expected more from us and I hoped for more,” said Lundqvist, who finished Game 5 with 29 saves.
Coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference finals last season, the Rangers were a popular preseason pick for Stanley Cup projections: a strong core group of players now equipped with playoff experience, a reigning Vezina Trophy Winner in goal and a premier player added in star winger Rick Nash.
On paper, the team looked fearsome. In reality, they just weren’t.
Struggling to even make the cut of the top eight teams in the East, the Rangers' shortcomings were conspicuous against a deep, balanced, physical and experienced Bruins team -- one that remained largely intact from their Stanley Cup Championship run two years ago.
Depth was the biggest reason, as the Bruins fed off rookie sensation Torey Krug and a productive fourth line Saturday night.
With the Bruins trailing 1-0 in the second period, Krug notched his fourth goal in five games -- a power-play goal at 3:48. Not bad for a 22-year-old defenseman who made his NHL playoff debut in Game 1 of the series.
Gritty fourth-liner Gregory Campbell tallied twice, chipping in both the go-ahead goal in the third and an empty-netter with less than a minute to play. The son of former Rangers coach Colin Campbell, along with linemates Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille, were difference-makers all series.
“They had a lot of guys contribute throughout the series,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “Obviously tonight, their fourth line gets a goal. They were dangerous the whole series.”
By comparison, the Rangers’ injury-addled back end, without defensemen Marc Staal all five games and Anton Stralman the last two, struggled to contain a well-balanced Bruins attack that seemed, at times, unrelenting.
The Rangers didn't seem to find the requisite intensity or will until the last game and a half, either. They failed to sustain a forecheck. They spent too much time in their own end. And they relied upon Lundqvist with far too much frequency.
For a team that’s hard-nosed, blue-collar, lunch-pail mentality was uncompromising in 2011-12, it lacked that straightforward ethos in a lockout-shortened season that saw a significant changeover in personnel.
“I think, this season, we struggled to get our personality, to get our identity," Tortorella said.
Part of the reason for that was the grind of the shortened season, part was the absence of Tortorella’s notoriously rigorous training camp -- crucial in cultivating that mindset -- and part was the middle-of-the-lineup guys who departed for different locales last summer.
Regardless, this was a different team and not even nearly as dominant. The Rangers always seemed just a bit behind where they should’ve been, a bit short of where expectations had them pegged.
“I think everybody expected big things,” McDonagh said. “It’s tough to play from behind in a lot of series. We were able to show a lot of character and will in the first one [vs. Washington], not that we didn’t show it in this one, it just builds on you and it adds on you and the odds are against you. We were trying to compete all the way to the end.”
Much like both of the Rangers’ first two series, which left them trailing 2-0 after the opening pair of games, the Rangers had to fight to climb the standings. Last season, they pretty much cruised their way to the top of the East, with a conference-best 109 points in the regular season.
“Well, halfway through the season we were in a totally different position compared to last year. That’s why it’s a different feeling,” Lundqvist said. “This game is about winning, and when you’re winning, you have one feeling, and when you’re losing, you have another feeling.”
Perhaps that is the most heartbreaking realization for Lundqvist, who sat in his stall for several minutes after the game, hands on his sweat-drenched cap, trying to absorb the shock of defeat.
The Rangers had a narrow window last year, a really good chance at making a run for the Cup, and it didn’t happen. A veteran like Lundqvist knows that opportunity doesn’t come often.
“Some years you don’t really have a chance to go that far in the playoffs, you just battle hard,” he said. “I think this year we had a pretty good team, but, um, I just think there was a few games where we didn’t reach our top level. When you play a team like Boston, it’s going to be tough to beat them.”
The Rangers managed to take one game -- largely because of a lucky tumble taken by Tuukka Rask that led to a New York goal -- to salvage some pride and avoid a spirit-sapping sweep.
But the Rangers were never going to get past this Bruins squad.
Boston was the better team. And the Rangers weren’t good enough.
“They deserved to win,” Lundqvist said. “No question.”