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Rangers confident they can contend with core group

by David Satriano

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers have competed in the Eastern Conference Final in three of the past four seasons, but have yet to achieve the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

Despite being older next season, most of the players feel their chance of winning the Cup with the current group is still very high.

"We have the same core guys here for the last six or seven years and built the team around that," defenseman Dan Girardi said Monday. "Just kind of brought guys in the last 3-4 years. It just seems this team jells. We get a couple of guys at the deadline and they just fit right in. … Hopefully we will be able to get a lot of guys back for next year and have another good run."

The core Girardi was referring to includes himself, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Henrik Lundqvist and Derek Stepan among others. But Girardi admitted he and the rest of his team isn't getting any younger.

"There is a window," Girardi said. "For me, it might be five years, it might be more, it might be less so these years coming up are very important. If we keep the team together, we're going to have a chance every year, the way the team is built. We have [Lundqvist] in net, great 'D' core and great forwards. We're set up to do some good long runs."

Stepan is a pending restricted free agent who hopes the Rangers sign him long term. He signed a two-year $6.15 million contract before the 2013-14 season after holding out and missing the entire preseason.

"I have to get myself organized here and find an answer for myself first, evaluate my season and then move forward," Stepan said. "Obviously I want to be here. This is where all my buddies are. This is the city I love to play in and I'm hoping the organization feels the same way."

Stepan had 16 goals and 55 points during the regular season and five goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including the overtime goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals. He is arbitration eligible should he not be able to agree to a contract with the Rangers.

"I haven't really given it much thought," Stepan said. "I haven't even really talked to my agent yet. I know that I want to sit down with him in the next week here."

Lundqvist, 33, also likes the Rangers' current makeup and believes not much needs to change.

"I don't think about window or how long I am going to play," Lundqvist said. "Now I'm just focused on year-to-year and I know the last few years we've been a consistent group. We have been right there. We have been coming up a little short, but we are getting close. We just need to improve a little bit."

McDonagh, who played through a broken right foot sustained in Game 4 of the conference final, doesn't think the Rangers took a step backward even though they didn't make it to the Cup Final. The Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team during the regular season.

"We want to get to the next level and call ourselves Stanley Cup champions," McDonagh said. "This is all a part of the process …we want to try and bring that next level and have our next chance at another run and hopefully be able to call ourselves Stanley Cup champions one day.

"It's [a team] that really pulls for one another. Understands what it takes to win every night. … This group has a lot of things you can't get anywhere else, the belief, the trust and the work ethic to want to be better and win every night."

Forward Derick Brassard said the Rangers have proven they're one of the League's best teams and should be for a while.

"I believe that we have the team," Brassard said. "I think [forward Mats] Zuccarello's injury really hurt the team when he went down. I think when we were healthy, we're one of the contenders in the League. We've proven that the last two years. We had a great record, we won the League this year in the standings. There's no doubt in my mind we have the team to do it."

Coach Alain Vigneault didn't discuss any roster moves but said not much needs to change in order for the Rangers to win the Cup.

"A lot of the pieces are probably going to be coming back next year. A lot of those pieces are still very young and improving. [Forward Chris] Kreider, Stepan, Brassard, they're all young guys coming into their own and this organization has a great pool of talent right now. It's up to us to work with the group and get them to become the best that they can be.

"We're going to analyze this in a better way here in the next couple of weeks and make the decisions that need to be made to improve this group."


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