Not just because Ottawa, overwhelmed and overmatched during the first two games at Madison Square Garden, barged into the Rangers’ arena and snatched a victory to advance to the third round for the first time since 2007. Or because of the favorable draw that dropped the Rangers into a less imposing side of the playoff bracket, thus guaranteeing they would avoid the three best teams — Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus — until the conference finals, a stage that eludes them yet again.
The Rangers led Ottawa for nearly three full games — half the series — and won only twice. Their first three defeats came by one goal, and they were winning at some point in each. Twice in Ottawa, including Game 5 on Saturday, the Rangers bungled late leads after the Senators pulled goaltender Craig Anderson for an extra attacker, and they went on to lose in overtime. On Tuesday, they allowed two first-period goals and mangled four power plays, including three in the first 12 minutes 35 seconds.
“I don’t know if I’ve really ever gone through a series like this where we seemed to shoot ourselves in the foot as far as closing games out or not playing well in crucial situations,” said the Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, who slowed his team’s push by committing a late penalty. “We have nobody to blame but ourselves, and that’s the truth of the situation.”
These are the moments that remained raw Tuesday in the immediate aftermath. The Rangers will analyze and discuss them for days, weeks, in exit interviews and honest conversations among themselves. The chances were there — Chris Kreider, after scoring 53 seconds into the third period to pull the Rangers to within a goal, flubbed a pass from Mika Zibanejad and later tipped a rebound wide in the final minute — and then they were not.
With two days to simmer after losing Game 5 in overtime, the Rangers projected confidence. Speaking late Tuesday morning, Coach Alain Vigneault was asked which approach he favored before an elimination game: stressing the magnitude or not even mentioning it. Neither, he said.
When the Rangers convened for their pregame meeting, they talked about process but not outcome — they would cherish the moment. On the short path between the dressing room and the ice, their quest for mindfulness lapsed. McDonagh sounded a menacing premonition earlier in the day when he said that he hoped his teammates understood that they could not expect to thump Ottawa, as they did in Games 3 and 4 at the Garden, just by showing up, and he echoed it afterward.
“We were all pretty focused in here, saying the right things,” McDonagh said. “But it’s a difference between saying and doing, and that showed up on the ice.”
Ottawa played with a sense of purpose that exposed the Rangers’ sloppiness. The Senators’ passes…