Monday, May 28, 2012
Rangers forced to face hard truths
By Katie Strang
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- With two days off to rue a heartbreaking loss in Game 6 and reflect on a season that fell short, the Rangers are saddled with the sour realization that what was given was not enough.
And in the wake of their exit from the Eastern Conference finals, the scrutiny will rest heaviest on the team's top offensive players, who provided too little when it mattered.
When asked if the contributions from his premier scorers during the Rangers' third-round loss to the Devils were sufficient, coach John Tortorella couldn't escape that glaring truth.
"No," he said. "I think they tried and I think you need to give Jersey some credit also for the way they played, but your best players need to be their best and ours weren't the best at enough times."
Tortorella didn't name names, but really he didn't need to. Marian Gaborik and former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards had one goal between them in the series. Neither Derek Stepan nor Brian Boyle found the back of the net. First-line rookie winger Carl Hagelin was held off the scoresheet entirely. Captain Ryan Callahan made a push with three goals in the last four games, but he took too long to get going.
Too little, too late.
"It's frustrating -- disappointing, obviously -- the exit," said Gaborik, whose 41-goal regular season was eclipsed by his inconsistency during the playoffs. "When it ends like that, in overtime, it's different than if you see it coming. It's a tough one to swallow."
Said Stepan: "I don't think I was as sharp as I could've been in the conference finals."
Whereas the Rangers struggled offensively, the Devils did not lack for scoring. Both of the team's star players -- Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise -- finished the series with five points apiece, while rookie Adam Henrique delivered the overtime winner in Game 6, and role players like defenseman Bryce Salvador and the team's energetic fourth line chipped in as well.
"Jersey deserved to win the series," Tortorella said. "I'm not going to say they're a better team, but they were playing better."
The bitter loss to the team's division rival allows the Rangers to pinpoint some deficiencies as the team prepares for what is expected to be another active year in free agency.
In evaluating personnel and addressing needs going into next season, the addition of another bona-fide scoring threat will, without a doubt, be a point of emphasis this summer for a goals-starved team that averaged only 2.15 per game in the postseason.
Parise, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, will be a primary target. Depending on what happens with him, the Rangers may also refocus their efforts on Rick Nash, for whom they tried to trade before the deadline in February.
"Listen, we have to work extremely hard to score goals," Tortorella said. "Along the way, if there's something that can help there, you find a way to teach your concept but -- to bring some talent in, to allow that to work for you also."
Regardless of whether the Rangers are successful in big-game hunting come July, they will also likely be in the market for another top-pair defenseman. The team won't deviate from its hard-hitting, blue-collar, shot-blocking style of play.
No matter the personnel, that will remain an integral element of the team's identity, Tortorella assured.
"We're certainly not going to lose the premise of what we are," Tortorella said. "That's a big part of us."