Rangers focus on future

Updated: April 25, 2011, 9:48 PM ET
By Matt Ehalt | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The Rangers all talked of the blooming core of young players and the potentially great future ahead, but less than 48 hours after being eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoffs by the Capitals, this loss still hurt.

"Right now, I'm just disappointed. We lost too early," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "In a few weeks, you have to try to learn from it and see what was good or not good and try to improve things for next year. I agree we have a great group here and it's definitely something we can build on."

Instead of playing in Game 6 Monday night, the Rangers loss in Game 5 turned Monday into exit meetings day, where the players had last meetings with the coaching staff and the media before heading into the offseason.

While the series loss isn't easy to get over, the Rangers coach and players are optimistic their plan of patience and youth is heading the club in the right direction -- although they wouldn't mind the addition of a top-line player.

"I think everyone should feel pretty good about what's here," forward Chris Drury said. "Very talented, very mature young nucleus we have that is probably only going to grow and those guys are only going to get better and better. I think going forward that's a pretty good situation here."

As hopeful as the team is of the future, don't be fooled. This team wishes it still had at least one more game on its slate. In no way did the team sound content with its season Monday, often saying they felt they could've done better in the playoffs. With no chance to right the ship, though, all eyes turned to the future.

From the start of the year to the final postgame press conference, Rangers head coach John Tortorella stressed the importance of building the team in the right way, starting from the ground up with draft picks and letting the team's youth get playing time. He also has strived to create a blue-collar, hard-working identity.

Instead of trading for mercenaries at the trade deadline, the team kept its youth, opting to preserve the future. While the season didn't end in the best manner, that youth played a big reason why the team made the playoffs and is positioned well for the upcoming seasons. Defensemen Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh turned into effective second-line defensive players, while rookie Derek Stepan showed promise.

"I can't speak for everybody but the guys that I've talked with the last couple of days, the season is over, it's pretty exciting," McDonagh said. "Guys want to be back playing for the New York Rangers because they've seen what hopefully lies ahead with hard work and execution."

As well as the youth and the team's core played, several mentioned that adding more talent to the mix would help. The Rangers won lots of games on hard work and guts, but it became evident against the Capitals that the talent just wasn't at the same level.

Tortorella said his team has skill within its lineup, but it could use some "top-end skill." Whether that piece is in the system, on another team or a soon to be a free agent, the Rangers will have to find out.

It's going to take time for the Rangers to become an elite team. But this time, even after another early-round playoffs exit, the Rangers can look ahead and hope.

"I know we're doing it the right away but I don't have a crystal ball," Tortorella said about his team ascending in the NHL. "I think during the summer here, if there is opportunity to add some pieces, it depends on what happens there, there's a group of people that we definitely feel are the core, but you also are always looking to try to improve your team."

Tortorella wouldn't address a New York Post report that he has signed an extension with the team.

"I'm not going to talk about myself. This is all about you have questions about the team, the players, and stuff like that," he said. "I've never felt comfortable and I'm not going to feel comfortable."

Matt Ehalt is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

Matt Ehalt

ESPN New York contributor

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