Haunting Loss Remains With Rangers On Break-Up Day
It could have been that the Rangers spent Monday preparing to play Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals later that evening at Madison Square Garden. Instead, Ranger players, coaches, and staff took part in break-up day at the MSG Training Center, while 3,000 miles away the Los Angeles Kings were feted with a championship parade.
Head coach Alain Vigneault, who met individually with each player on Monday, said his team's four losses to the Kings--in particular the three in overtime on the road, including Friday's Game Five double overtime defeat...would "haunt" the Rangers because the club was so close to winning each and every one.
"I think we really put our best foot forward," stated Vigneault. "We left it all out on the ice, tried our best, lost in five. It's a tough loss, one that will haunt me and my group for some time now, but I'm hoping we're going to learn from this. Every year is different. Next year's team is going to be different. We have a good young foundation, though. We have some real good people in that dressing room."
Vigneault said that the coaches and scouts had met with the front office leaders on Sunday to begin forming an off-season game-plan. Free agency begins on July 1st, and the Rangers have several UFAs including Anton Stralman, Dom Moore, and Brian Boyle to consider, not to mention several key RFAs like Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and John Moore to work contracts out with. In addition Vigneault acknowledged that the team needs to decide if it will use its compliance buyout on Brad Richards, who did not speak with reporters after his sit-down with the head coach.
For the most part players deferred comment on contracts and "business" matters on Monday. And it was clear that the pain of losing the Stanley Cup Final in five games to the Kings was still very much present and that the cross-country flight had not eased that pain, nor had a beautiful Fathers Day, by time Monday rolled around.
"It hits you really fast that it's over," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "When it ended, it's pretty shocking, a pretty devastating feeling. It's a lot to take in, but ultimately it was a heckuva' run. We were fortunate enough to get a taste of it, and you get that taste and you want to get back there, and I think this group is motivated right away."
Fellow defenseman Anton Stralman said he just felt "drained..that's the best way I can describe it...emptiness, and then your body just goes into an off mode and you just try and make it through the past couple of days."
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, wearing a sweat jacket and baseball cap, looking like he was ready for another practice, but instead spoke in a quiet tone while answering questions from the media. Smiles were few and far between for the face of the franchise, who performed so valiantly in goal for the Rangers during their entire playoff run, and most definitely in the Cup Final.
Of all the Rangers, Lundqvist seemed to still be taking the series loss to the Kings the hardest. The pain could still be heard in his voice and seen on his face. However he did ring a positive tune, after pointing out he had "no regrets" regarding his play or how the team gave its all during the Stanley Cup Final.
"We're doing a lot of good things, and you should be believe that we're on track, and I hope we can continue building on this for next year," stated Lundqvist. "We have to try and have an even better year. That's a good challenge."
Kreider pointed out that he was "appreciative" of the opportunity which was presented to the Rangers, while Dan Girardi admitted "it still hurts a bit" and that pain will serve as "incentive" for this group moving forward.
Many players, including veteran Dominic Moore, noted that going this deep in the playoffs was an important learning experience and was part of the next step for a Rangers franchise that two years ago won the Atlantic Division with 109 points and then advanced to the 2012 Eastern Conference Final.
"The flight home was long--it's long either way--but it (stunk) waking up (Saturday) morning and knowing how close we were to achieving the goal we set out on the first day of training camp," explained winger Derek Dorsett. "Obviously being so close to a dream I've been dreaming since I was a little kid, just made it a long day. But in time we'll be able to reflect on all the good we accomplished and carry that into next year. Right now, it just stings a little bit."
Dorsett is one of three Rangers--Boyle and Derek Stepan are the other two--whose attention will shift quickly away from hockey now that the season is over. All three are getting married this summer--in fact Boyle's wedding is this Friday.
"It's crazy," laughed Boyle. "I just want to go find a couch somehwere right now!"
Brassard said that he will start his summer training for next season in two weeks, and many of his teammates did point out how little time there will be for rest since the team played its final game of 2013-14 on June 13th.
Incredibly training camp will be starting up in eleven weeks, with many of the players returning to New York weeks before that. The Rangers will return a proud team, and a hungry one, too. 2014 Eastern Conference Champions, hoping for even great accomplishments next season.
"With everything that happened and how close we came, I am even more excited to come back (in the fall)," concluded Kreider.