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    Thursday, July 18, 2024

    Rangers' core looks to next season to finally reach Stanley Cup Final

    New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) shakes hands with Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, right, after the Panthers won Game 6 to win the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Saturday, June 1, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Tarrytown, N.J. — Seven years ago after the Henrik Lundqvist-led New York Rangers lost in the second round of the playoffs to Ottawa, there was talk of the team’s veteran core soon being dismantled.

    None of that chatter existed Tuesday as the Rangers vowed to return next season to finish the mission of their just-completed season which ended with a six-game defeat to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final.

    Chris Kreider, the longest-tenured Ranger who has played in five Eastern Conference Final rounds since joining the team during the 2012 playoffs, was asked if he believes these Rangers have the key ingredients to win New York's first Stanley Cup since 1994.

    “Yes,’’ said the 33-year-old left wing, who has 123 games of playoff experience. “Obviously it’s very fresh and we’re disappointed but we had a pretty incredible year. There are some things we can take and learn from and come back and be better.”

    The Rangers set franchise records, winning 55 games, accumulating 114 points in capturing the Presidents’ Trophy as the league's best regular-season team. They swept the Washington Capitals in the opening round, outlasted the Carolina Hurricanes in six games before succumbing to the Panthers in a series that featured five one-goal games.

    “That conference final was two very good teams, muddy hockey a bunch of one-goal games,’’ Kreider said. “I think for us, it’s that extra 5-to-10%, improve in all areas. Come back as better individuals and better as a team.”

    The Panthers were especially effective on special teams, limiting the Rangers to one power-play goal in 15 chances. They refused to give Artemi Panarin (one goal in the series) and Mika Zibanejad room to operate.

    “They were a pretty fast team, a heavy team and they were close to you every time, maybe one foot from you,’’ said Panarin, who scored a career high 49 goals and had 120 points. “We couldn’t get too many odd-man rushes against them.”

    Panarin emphasized he was proud of the team’s effort. They simply fell short against the Panthers who will face the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final starting Saturday. Florida fell to Vegas in five games last year in the Cup Final.

    “They are a hard team to play,’’ Panarin added.

    The Rangers may have been hampered on the blueline as their captain Jacob Trouba was playing in the playoffs after recovering from a broken ankle sustained in March. Stalwart defenseman Ryan Lindgren said he suffered a cracked rib in Game 6 in the second round against Carolina but played through the pain against Florida. Forward Jimmy Vesey said he separated his shoulder which took him out of the lineup for the last four games of the playoffs.

    Adam Fox, who was limited to eight assists during the playoffs, after having 17 goals and 73 points during the season, said the confidence gained will be key next season.

    The Rangers have won the Cup once (1994) since 1940.

    “The culture we built, the foundation we have is strong,’’ said Fox, who refused to use a first-round knee injury against Washington as an excuse. “You don’t get to two Eastern Conference finals in three years by accident. Obviously, we have to get over that hump and figure out a way of getting to the ultimate goal of winning it.”

    Goaltender Igor Shesterkin, the team’s best player during the postseason, expressed gratitude for his second run to the semifinals in three seasons. He also said the team’s sole goal next season is to find a way to go deeper into June.

    “We have a good future,’’ said Shesterkin, who had a 2.34 goals against average in stopping 485 of the 524 postseason shots. “We have amazing players. I think we have a really good chance to win the Stanley Cup next season.”

    The Rangers have to find a way to keep the 28-year-old Shesterkin, whose contract expires after next season.

    The soft-spoken star Russian goaltender demurred when asked about getting an extension.

    “Sorry, I don’t speak English,’’ he said.

    The Rangers have three key restricted free agents — Lindgren, fellow defenseman Braden Schneider and forward Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019.

    The puck gets past New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin, front left, on a goal by Florida Panthers right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (10) during the third period of Game 6 in the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Saturday, June 1, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
    New York Rangers' Chris Kreider (20) and Mika Zibanejad (93) celebrate Kreider's goal on Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) during the second period of Game 5 in the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday, May 30, 2024, in New York, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
    New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) is congratulated after scoring during the third period of Game 6 against the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Saturday, June 1, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
    New York Rangers center Vincent Trocheck celebrates after scoring during the first period of Game 4 during the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs against the Florida Panthers, Tuesday, May 28, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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