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Rangers look ahead after disappointing end

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Tortorella Breaks Down the Season Watch
Callahan and Dubinsky on the 2009-10 Season Watch
Lundqvist Looks Back on 2009-10 Watch
Avery Discusses His Injury Watch
Gaborik Comments on His Season Watch
Prust on His Rangers Experience Watch
Redden and Gilroy on the Season Watch
Remarks by Girardi, Christensen and Voros Watch
Remarks by Captain Drury Watch
Prospal Looks Back on His Season Watch
Boyle and Del Zotto on 2009-10 Watch

By Jim Cerny,

Less than 48 hours after their season came to a close one point shy of a playoff berth with a bitterly painful 2-1 shootout defeat in Philadelphia, the 2009-10 Rangers gathered for the final time at the MSG Training Center on Tuesday.

Players underwent physicals, met with head coach John Tortorella for one-on-ones, and packed up their belongings, most still shocked that they are not taking part in the post-season, especially following a near magical stretch run.

Michael Del Zotto was sensational in his rookie season, registering nine goals and 28 assists in his first 80 NHL games.
“It’s been tough,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “It’s definitely not the ending we looked for, and I am just so disappointed right now. I have been a pro for nine years, five years here and another four back home in Sweden, and I’ve never missed the playoffs. I will spend the next few weeks trying to figure out what I could have done better, and I hope the other guys will do that, too.”

Lundqvist and his teammates were not the only ones searching for answers as to how the Rangers just missed out on their fifth straight playoff berth this season. And they were not alone in accepting blame for the early start to their off-season, either.

“Inconsistency was a huge part of our year in a lot of different areas, and that falls with me, that’s my responsibility,” said Tortorella.

Both the head coach and his players lamented that a strong start (7-1-0) and finish (7-1-2) to the season was undermined by inconsistency from mid-October through mid-March. It was the most common thread to what the players and coach had to say about the 2009-10 campaign when visiting with media on Tuesday.

“You have to realize that we didn’t lose our spot on Sunday,” explained Lundqvist, who finished the season with a terrific 2.38 goals against average and .921 save percentage while appearing in a career-high 73 games. “We lost it during the year when we didn’t have enough consistency in our game. We lost a lot of games we should have won, and that’s where we lost our playoff spot.”

The team’s late surge to land one point shy of a playoff berth after having been seven points out with ten games to play seemed to be of little consolation to the Rangers on Tuesday. While the players and coach felt good about how they battled down the stretch, that just seemed to add to the empty feeling which was so pervasive at their practice facility.

And while there are aspects of the late-season run that the Rangers will be able to utilize next season, no one is suggesting there will be any sort of carryover once training camp starts again in September.

“It’s so disappointing to be out and not playing right now,” said winger Marian Gaborik, who equaled his career-high with 42 goals and established a new best with 86 points this season. “We had a really great last three weeks or month where we really came together and came through. I like the way we bounced back and pushed for it. But on the other hand, if we had played the right way all year, we wouldn’t be worrying about where we are right now.”

At the core of what helped turn around the fortunes of the club down the stretch, according to Tortorella, was that the additions of Jody Shelley and Brandon Prust changed the culture of the Rangers’ locker room and that, in turn, translated into better play on the ice.

Clearly Shelley, Prust, and linemate Artem Anisimov were among the Rangers’ most effective forwards over the final ten games. But Tortorella believes that their influence on the team ran much deeper than anything they did on the ice.

“I think for you to win that (locker) room needs to sustain itself,” explained the head coach. “That room didn’t sustain itself. I think it took a big step with the addition of these guys to help. But I don’t think the room is a strong room. We don’t have enough character guys like Jody Shelley.”

With the coach clearly hinting that changes will be made among the player personnel, the question is whether or not there will be wholesale changes, similar to last off-season, or if the team just needs some tweaking.

“There are still some things we have to fix, but we have a really good core of young players,” Tortorella said of a group which includes Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Anisimov, among others. “I think there are some problems outside of our young core. As an organization I think it’s important that we assess it properly and be realistic about what we are. But I don’t think we need as much (change) as last year.”

As the players said their goodbyes on Tuesday, some for the final time as Rangers, others just until training camp opens again in September, plans were already being made for the off-season. Several players could be taking part in the World Championships, with Staal, Gaborik, and Chris Drury very possibly representing their respective countries.

Due to various injuries or nagging aches and pains, Vinny Prospal, Callahan, and Lundqvist do not expect to play in the World Championships. Lundqvist did not completely rule out playing, though he cited some knee and hip pain as a reason why he may not, and Prospal said his sore knee requires rest.

As for Callahan, the silver-medal-winning U.S. Olympian said that he will not play in the World Championships because of his late-season knee injury. However, he did point out that he will not require surgery on the knee during the off-season.

“We’ve got to use (not making the playoffs) as motivation because it’s a bad feeling, a sour feeling,” offered Callahan. “I remember last year losing in the first round and it was terrible, too. But not being a part of the playoffs, it’s tough. And we have to remember that.”

Many players said that it would pain them to watch the playoffs on television, and others said that they would not watch a minute of playoff action because it would hurt too much. Staal said that he had no choice but to watch since his brother Jordan will be taking part as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Lundqvist added that he couldn’t watch the early games, but would eventually tune in for some playoff action.

“It’s going to be hard to watch, tough even to just turn on the TV because TSN in Canada, that’s all they play is playoff highlights,” said defenseman Dan Girardi, who will have an important diversion, spending time with his newborn baby. “It’s definitely a different feeling. I don’t know what to do, to tell you the truth, this is my first time being home and not in the playoffs. It’s not a great feeling.”

The players filed out one by one and their locker room, usually an active and boisterous place, was quiet and empty.

And that emptiness seemed to be the prevailing feeling of the day.

“It’s tough to say goodbye,” said Dubinsky. “We’ve got five months of thinking about this ahead of us. We have to remember exactly how this feels.”

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