The era ended the way it began.

Without a Stanley Cup.

The longest stretch of sustained success in New York Rangers franchise history will always have the word ‘but’ attached to it, following the 2015-16 season ending 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center in Game 5 of the Metropolitan Division semifinals.

The Rangers lost the series, 4-1, are were non-competitive in the final three games.

“The results were what they were,” Ryan McDonagh told reporters in Pittsburgh after the game. “They played better. They executed better in pretty much all (facets) of the game.

“Simply put, we didn’t play well enough. They were a lot better throughout the series. We didn’t play up to our potential I don’t think anyone should be happy with how they performed.”

Whether one prefers the eye test or statistical evaluation, it was clear over the course of 300 minutes spanning five Stanley Cup Playoff games that the Rangers were significantly outclassed by a Pittsburgh team that very well could represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.

Need proof? The Rangers were outscored 21-10 in the five games. That breaks down to an average of 4.20-2.00 goals per game. Deeper examination reveals the Rangers power play finished the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 10.5 percent success rate, while the penalty kill units yielded man down goals at a 38.1 percent clip.

“Their special teams was the difference,” said Dan Girardi, who missed Games 2-4 with an undisclosed injury. Girardi returned to the lineup in Game 5 and contributed an assist on Rick Nash’s game-opening goal.

“We’re not used to this. It’s going to take awhile to get over.”

Indeed, this marks the first first-round series loss since the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, which the Rangers dropped in five games to the Capitals. Between the 2012 and 2015 playoff campaigns, the Rangers played 76 Stanley Cup Playoff games spanning 12 series. Three times they reached the Eastern Conference Final. There was one Stanley Cup Final appearance. 

But the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup championship never materialized, despite trading away draft picks and prospects in order to win the sport’s ultimate trophy. The Rangers only have five picks in June’s Draft, none in the first two rounds. 

And now, as the 2015-16 Rangers congregate one final time--likely Monday at their training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y.--serious decisions must be made about the core of a group that was exposed by the Penguins as not possessing the speed, depth and youth required to compete for the Stanley Cup. 

As Metro New York reported in its Mar. 27 edition, the Rangers should enter the off-season with potentially $19.85 million in available salary cap space. But that number should shrink as Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller are due RFA deals. Keith Yandle is an unrestricted free agent, and provides an offensive skill set from the back end that none of the other Ranger defensemen can match.

If organizational decision makers determine a rebuild is necessary, Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, amongst others, could be dealt. But it would take some maneuvering as Nash has a no-trade clause and two years left on his contract. He is due to make $8 million next year and $8.2 million in 2017-18. Girardi has $19 million and four years remaining on the extension he signed prior to the 2013-14 NHL Trade Deadline, along with a no-move clause. Staal is owed $27.2 million over the next five seasons and he, too, possesses a no-move clause. Of the four, Brassard might be the easiest to deal as he has a modified no-trade clause.

You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman.