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Rangers break up after memorable season

Questions abound after club reaches first Stanley Cup final since '94
06/16/2014 6:54 PM ET
By Seth Rothman

Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers reached their first Stanley Cup final since 1994.(AP)
GREENBURGH, N.Y. - The lights that illuminate the rink at the MSG Training Center were dimmed on Monday morning. The skate-sharpening machine was off.

The Rangers had been hoping to be at Madison Square Garden preparing for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Instead, they were at their practice rink in suburban Westchester County, a handful of autograph seekers huddled near the players-only entrance to the building. The only sounds were of zippers closing and of reporters hustling from player-to-player for break-up day interviews.

"It's pretty heartbreaking, obviously a lot of emotions," said Brian Boyle, who will be one of six unrestricted free agents this summer. "We did everything we could. We gave everything we had. That's something that's fulfilling in a way. In the same way, it makes it even tougher to swallow."

The Rangers' hopes for their first Stanley Cup since 1994 were snuffed out by a relentless Los Angeles Kings team that, hours after the Rangers met the media for the final time, were honored with a parade through the streets of Tinseltown after their second championship in three seasons.

"It's a tough one to handle right now," said Rick Nash, who finished the playoffs with three goals in 25 games. "You work all season, and you work all playoffs to get there, and you can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's right there. To get it taken away from you is pretty tough."

"We had a lot of confidence, a lot of belief in each other," said Ryan McDonagh, who's one of the favorites to become the team's 28th captain next season. "At any point in the LA series, we felt were going to turn it around and make it happen. But, we didn't. It's pretty shocking, a pretty devastating feeling."

They were done in by shocking third-period letdowns. During the regular season, the Rangers were 28-1-2 when leading after the second period. During the first three rounds of the playoffs, they were 10-0. During the Cup final, just 1-2.

"It's a tough loss," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. "It's going to haunt me and my group for some time."

"How hard it is to win - I don't think you can even begin to fathom or understand that until you've experienced it first-hand," said forward Chris Kreider. "Each round is so much more difficult, and that final round - it's not easy. It's talked about a lot, but it's something you really kind of have to experience."

"It's fun to be in the playoffs, to play these games," said Henrik Lundqvist, who was visibly distraught in the visitor's locker room at Staples Center after Friday's season-ending loss. "It's a lot of work for those two months, but it's worth it."

The road to the Stanley Cup was a long one for the Rangers. It started in Western Canada back in September, when the team held part of their training camp near Calgary. They didn't have a home game until the end of October, playing their first nine games of the season on the road.

It continued at breakneck pace through the outdoor Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium, past the Olympic break, and into the postseason. From first day to last day, the season lasted 276 days.

"I think we can hold our heads high. We accomplished great things this year. We surprised a lot of people. We can be proud of that. But, obviously just falling short is tough," said defenseman Anton Stralman, who is another of the team's unrestricted free agents. "Just drained. That's the best way I can describe it. After [Game 5], there's just emptiness. Your body just goes into some kind of off-mode."

"From where we started, Banff [Alberta] for a month, out west, no home games for a while, it was definitely an interesting start to the year," Girardi said. "This group handled it really well, we were struggling for a bit during the year, but we got into the playoffs. We just found a way to get ourselves in, and have some fun in the playoffs."

The team that started the season 16-18-2 finished the regular season 29-13-4, before shocking the hockey world by advancing to the Cup final.

"It was a lot of fun," said Dominic Moore. "We definitely came together as a group over the last two months. It's rewarding when you get through some of those special moments together. That's something we can all look back on with a lot of pride."

"The chemistry's been there since October," said John Moore. "Winning games, being in the playoffs, and having this much excitement definitely makes everybody that much more happy and excited. In terms of a team, this is probably one of the closest teams I've been on."

"Each year you play, your drive gets bigger and bigger," said Derek Stepan, who played the final seven games of the postseason with a broken jaw. "This group has been close, and certainly that drive's going to be there next year, for sure."

Follow Seth Rothman on Twitter @RothmanHockey
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