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Team hungrier after taste of playoff success

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Forward Martin Straka speaks with members of the New York media on Tuesday afternoon as the Rangers closed out their 2006-07 season with a final day at the MSG Training Center
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Two days after their remarkable 2006-07 season came to an end, the Rangers players, coaches and staff returned to the Madison Square Garden Training Center on Tuesday to conduct final meetings, reflect on what they had shared for the past eight months, and say their good-byes for the summer.

The disappointment of losing to Buffalo in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals had not gone away, of course, but there was certainly a sense of optimism surrounding the team. The Blueshirts made major strides this season, establishing themselves as one of the top teams in the East and raising the bar high for next year.

In his final meeting of the season with the local media, Rangers head coach Tom Renney spoke about the team's past, present and future. He clearly could still feel the sting of Sunday's loss, but echoed his sentiments from a year ago, when he spoke of adversity as a great teacher.

"I know how I feel," he said. " It's not an easy situation. It's not one that you savor, that's for sure. But you do have to draw conclusions from how you feel as to where you want to go moving forward. I think that's as important as anything. I think we all feel pretty empty, but having said that, I think there's enough there to recognize that whether we let something slip away or not, we can certainly do better by this experience."

Renney said he was proud of all that his team accomplished in 2006-07, particularly in the period after Christmas, when the Rangers turned themselves from a team caught in the bottom half of the conference to one of the hottest heading into the playoffs.

"I believe we made some good headway," he said. "From what we had to accomplish from Christmas time on, we certainly met that objective."

Asked if the team felt frustrated coming out of the Buffalo series, Renney was quick to shake his head.

"It's more disappointing," he said. "Disappointment, I think, is more than a motivator than frustration... We want to recognize that disappointment is a valid emotion right now. I think we've got to make sure that we build off of that and recognize that it's not an easy feeling to deal with."

Renney singled out several players for praise, but made a special mention of Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr, who played a big role in the team's first-round sweep of Atlanta and pair of wins over Buffalo.

"Jaromir was as good a captain as I've seen, especially under the circumstances," said Renney. "... I thought he carried the mantle extremely well. ... You really saw why this guy is a Hall of Famer and why he's as highly regarded as he is and has been in the past."

Renney said he was also proud of the Rangers' commitment to a their game plan throughout their playoff run. That plan, he said, was all about playing good defense.

"As you play playoff hockey, you've got to make sure that you don't give up too much. We really tried to operate from a defensive premise to start with and thought that we could generate enough offense from that. If not through 5-on-5 play, then possibly through our power play. So, again, it was a case of not giving up more than you take, but at the same time trying to push the envelope ... forechecking appropriately, taking away time and space and developing a counter-attack off of that."

Asked about any weaknesses in the lineup that might be addressed in the off-season, Renney noted that one of the biggest problems the Rangers had against Buffalo was the lack of a "bona fide center" for the second line. The Blueshirts' No. 2 playoff line was composed of Sean Avery, Martin Straka and Brendan Shanahan, who are all natural wingers.

2006-07 will be remembered as a foundation for all that the Rangers can become in the years ahead. Here is just a sample of what the team achieved this past season:
  • The first playoff victory since 1997
  • The first playoff series victory since 1997
  • The most road victories in a season since 1993-94
  • The most victories ever in the month of March (10)
  • The first back-to-back 40-win seasons since 1974
  • The highest winning percentage of any Eastern Conference team after the Feb. 27 trade deadline
"They had to manufacture as much as they possibly could as three wingers," Renney said. "Marty (Straka) has spent some time at center ice, but it's not his primary position."

Renney also spoke to the team's future, noting the contributions of players called up from Hartford during the season, particularly defenseman Dan Girardi and forward Ryan Callahan.

Talk of the next generation of Rangers inevitably led to a discussion of blueline prospect Marc Staal, who has had an outstanding year with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. Staal, who has led Sudbury into the league's championship series and could be playing for the Memorial Cup later this month, was recently named the OHL's top defenseman.

"We're all optimistic, naturally, and pretty excited about what we have in front of us here," Renney said of Staal. "I think there's a good chance he can play here. But he has to make sure he goes through what's required of him to show us that he can do that. ... For me it's just making sure that he's mentally and physically mature enough to fit in."

With so many prospects eager to make the jump next fall, Renney said he expects the season to get off to a fast start with a strong training camp.

"I think you'll see as competitive a camp as we've had, naturally, because of the opportunity for jobs and also the ability of people that will be fighting for them," he said.

While new faces and competition for jobs will certainly help spur players on it September, Renney said the biggest motivator for a big 2007-08 season was born out of Sunday's defeat.

"We missed an opportunity in this playoffs and I think that will sit with guys to the point that it becomes a motivating factor and serve as inspiration," Renney said. "... The big thing is to keep improving because we want to win the Stanley Cup."
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