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Rangers season preview: The team will be forced to live up to expectations

Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers

Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers skates against Mark Alt #39 of the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Three crushing overtime losses, including Games One, Two and the Game Five clincher in Los Angeles, left the Rangers reeling after a dream season came to a nightmarish end in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Coach Alain Vigneault thrived during his first year in the New York pressure cooker. Sadly for the Blueshirts, Rick Nash didn't. He was a virtual non-factor in the postseason, emerging as the offensive scapegoat in a thrilling series that could have gone either way if not for his putrid output.

As expected, the Rangers bought out veteran center Brad Richards and upgraded an already gritty defense by signing Dan Boyle to a two-year deal.

With Henrik Lundqvist enjoying the prime of his surefire Hall of Fame career, the Rangers need Nash, newly named captain Ryan McDonagh, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan, who will likely miss the season's first month due to a broken leg, to make it easier on The King come playoff time.

Stepan's injury will force Vigneault to shuffle his line combinations in search of a solid fit at center on the fourth line. He'll have Chris Mueller in that spot for Thursday night's opener after failing to get anything out of veteran Martin St. Louis in that role during the preseason.

Losing Derek Dorsett and Brian Boyle in free agency shouldn't cause too much of an identity crisis for the Blueshirts, unless they repeat their dismal 2-6 start to last season.

If the Rangers exceeded expectations last year, they will now be forced to live up to them, which can be a daunting task for any team, much less one that plays in the heart of the media capital of the world.

Having Lundqvist as the last line of defense is always a comfort to the Blueshirts, but this year they must learn not to rely so heavily on their best player.

Perhaps a little more Cam Talbot in net during the regular season, and even more importantly, a little more than 2.61 goals-per-game, will help the Rangers cruise into the playoffs ready to defend their Eastern Conference crown and hang their first championship banner at MSG since 1994.

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