This loss extra painful for close Rangers’ team: ‘like a family’


SUNRISE, Fla. — The team that ended every practice with a hug finished its season by watching the opposition embrace.

These Rangers, most of the core having been here before this season, were particularly close. Every team is, but this one drew from it like a well.

It seeped into their mentality and into everything they did on the ice.

The Rangers' bench looks on dejectedly near the end of their 2-1 season-ending loss to the Panthers in Game 6.
The Rangers’ bench looks on dejectedly near the end of their 2-1 season-ending loss to the Panthers in Game 6. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The 2-1 loss to the Panthers on Saturday night that ended the season in Game 6 of the conference finals — one round short of their goal — was even more crushing for that fact.

“It feels like a family in here,” Mika Zibanejad said, speaking in a low voice inside the dressing room after it ended. “I think we’ve been working since training camp started. A lot of guys have been here from before and the new guys that came in have been unbelievable. It’s just everyone wants to see the next guy do well and everyone’s been fighting for the same thing, towards the same goal. I love this team and I love the guys on this team.

“This obviously makes it a lot harder to lose.”

These Rangers have grown up as a team together with relatively minimal changes to the core group.

Losing in Tampa at this stage two seasons ago hurt badly, but there were not expectations attached to that team the way there were this season.

The Rangers could justifiably look back on that run positively, as a joyride in which they arrived on the big stage.

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This year, it’s hard to imagine there will be happy lamentations after the fact.

The Rangers were the best team in the regular season and never found a way to consistently generate offense against a Florida team that played a relentless, aggressive, physical style and shut down their space at every turn.

And, unlike two years ago, the group is not young enough that nearly every important piece can be back next season.

Ryan Lindgren, Kaapo Kakko and Braden Schneider will hit restricted free agency.

Jack Roslovic, Alex Wennberg, Blake Wheeler and Erik Gustafsson will be unrestricted; Igor Shesterkin and Alexis Lafreniere will be among those who are extension-eligible July 1. There will be hard decisions among that group.

“That’s the s—ty part of any season,” Adam Fox said. “I think there’s so many guys that came and helped, just because you know in pro sports you don’t keep everyone and teams change, but I think the culture we’ve built here, the camaraderie we’ve had is something that — you’re gonna have some turnover — I think the foundation is here.

“It sucks to think this year is over. I think what we built is strong.”

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