One by one, the Rangers came into their dressing room for the final time in the 2011-12 season and offered final words about what they had accomplished, while acknowledging that the six-game loss to the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals will linger.
“It’s been tough,” said defenseman Marc Staal at end-of-season meetings yesterday at the Rangers’ Greenburgh training facility, three days after Adam Henrique’s goal 63 seconds into overtime ended their season.
“Obviously, having that success in the regular season, you want to bring it to the playoffs and win the whole thing,” Staal said. “We fell short and obviously we’re not happy with that.”
As a group, the Rangers expressed pride in what they had accomplished. Their 51 wins in the regular season marked only the third time in franchise history that the Rangers won at least 50 games, and they won the Atlantic Division title for the first time since 1993-94.
But the playoffs exposed the Rangers for what they are: a still-young group that desperately needs increased skill. The Rangers averaged 2.15 goals per game in the playoffs and only scored more than three goals once — in Game 1 against Ottawa.
Marian Gaborik, who was third in the NHL?in goals scored during the regular season with 41, scored only one goal in the six games against the Devils.
Despite recording four assists over the course of the series, Brad Richards was a non-factor. Carl Hagelin was held scoreless.
“I think we have made improvements, but I don’t think any organization in the league wants to sit still,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said. “We have to continue to improve as an organization, not just skill but all throughout.”
When pressed on the idea of adding a player whose skill set might not exactly dovetail with how the Rangers play, Tortorella expressed conviction the player could be trained the way the coach has demanded.
“Sometimes when you think it’s a really good piece, but he doesn’t exactly fit in all the little things you do, you can teach him those things if he really brings you something else,” Tortorella said, adding the Rangers “will not lose [their] premise,” and acquisitions “have to join in.”
New Jersey’s Zach Parise is an unrestricted free agent this summer, which coincides with the resumption of the Rick Nash trade saga. Anaheim Ducks sniper Bobby Ryan could also be on the trade market. All three are perennial 30-goal scorers.
“We have to work extremely hard to score goals,” Tortorella said. “Along the way if there’s something that can help, you find a way to teach your concept [to a player and] allow [his] talent to work for you.
Even three day later, Tortorella was still rankled over the fact that his team was outplayed for large stretches of the Eastern Conference finals.
“Jersey deserved to win that series. They played more minutes than we did; they were more consistent than we were,” Tortorella said. “I’m not going to sit here and say Jersey was a better team. Jersey was playing better. That’s something we have to understand and chew on when you’re in the third round. We can’t accept our starts; we can’t accept not playing as many minutes as the opposing team [does]. That’s where our next step is.”
Follow Rangers and Devils beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.