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Big Apple hockey has bright future after New York Rangers surprising run comes to end

New York Rangers
New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) congratulates Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper after the Lightning defeated the New York Rangers during Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals.
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

Nothing is going to ease the pain of the New York Rangers’ season-ending game 6 loss on Saturday night, their counterparts on Long Island can attest to that, but there should be plenty of excitement for what’s to come for the Blue Shirts going forward. 

The Rangers shocked just about everyone with their miraculous run to the Eastern Conference Final, going through the favored Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes before finally being dispatched by the Lightning. Even then, there was a sense that the scrappy Rangers could find a way to at least take the defending Cup champs to the brink. 

It was something that even Jon Cooper took note of after his team had punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive year. 

“It’s hard when you go seven, you go seven and you go six … that was their 20th playoff game in 40 days.”’ Cooper said. “It’s hard to play 20 regular-season games in 40 days, let alone playoff games. And for them to get as far as they did, I’m amazed by what they did, let alone what we did.

“The playoffs at times can be a war of attrition, and I think in the end the layoff helped us. It didn’t early, but no layoff hurt them and the long series. These games are 2-1, 3-2, they’re all extremely tight games. They gave us everything they had.”

And that should have Rangers fans and the team itself a lot of confidence heading into the 2022-23 season. New York took a monumental step forward in its rebuild and what emerged this season was signs that the decision the organization made in 2018 to start fresh was paying off. 

Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad showed why they are as valued as they are in Manhattan and the Russian phenom truly took the mantle as the franchise’s goaltender with postseason efforts that would make Henrik Lundqvist proud. 

New York Rangers
Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) gets around New York Rangers center Barclay Goodrow (21) during the second period in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals.AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

Young stars like Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller on the blue line shined and the “Kid Line” was one of the Rangers’ best weapons during the extended playoff run at times.

“Gerard Gallant is going to be sitting here not too long in the future,” Cooper said referring to the winner’s podium. 

Sure the Rangers bench boss will have to answer for some of his decision-making, which included scratching Kaap Kakko for Game 6 on Saturday night. 

However, in the big picture, the Rangers have shown they can compete with the league’s best teams and no situation is insurmountable for them. They made an art out of finding just about every way in the book to come back in a series or a game. 

“It’s hard right now,” Gallant said after the loss. “We played well, battled hard, had a chance to win all those games. And they found a way to get the big goals a the big time. But I’m proud of our guys. We competed every night.”

[ALSO READ: Rangers’ jam-packed schedule a factor in ECF exit]

All of this bodes well for the Rangers going forward and for hockey in New York overall. The resurgents of the Ranges, coupled with the hopeful improvement of the New York Islanders, could make for even more exciting hockey next season. 

The sting from Saturday may take some time to subside, but when it does it will be easy to see just how the Rangers have come this season. 

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