When it was over, a few moments after his team’s season had come to an end, Rangers coach John Tortorella uttered six words that offered a glimpse into his psyche.
“I really thought we were coming,” Tortorella said after Adam Henrique’s Eastern Conference finals-clinching goal 63 seconds into overtime sent the Rangers home for the summer with a devastating, 3-2 loss to the Devils in Game 6 Friday night at the Prudential Center.
New Jersey won the best-of-seven series four games to two, and now will meet the Western Conference champion Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals beginning Wednesday night at the Prudential Center.
After the series was over, the Rangers acknowledged the obvious: The loss to their Hudson River rivals will linger. New Jersey was the better team over the course of six games, as the Rangers, like Florida and Philadelphia before them, were unable to solve the Devils’ pressure.
Unlike the Panthers and the Flyers, the Rangers had played life-and-death hockey for 14 games against Ottawa and Washington in the first two rounds. Could they have simply run out of gas against an opponent that was surging?
“No. I disagree with [the media] on [the Rangers being tired after playing 19 playoff games before Friday night]. That has nothing to do with it. I thought the past couple of games, the second and third periods, we were the better team. It has nothing to do with being tired. This is part of learning to play,” Tortorella said. “And I couldn’t be happier how we responded after, again, a pretty shaky first period. I thought we were in a good spot going into that overtime.”
That Game 6 got to overtime was a feat in and of itself.
New Jersey’s speed overwhelmed the Rangers in the first period once again. Ryan Carter (10:05) and Ilya Kovalchuk (13:56) scored 3:51 apart to give the Devils a 2-0 at intermission.
But the Devils did not put the Rangers away when presented with an opportunity to put down a wounded foe. It cost New Jersey when Ruslan Fedotenko shoved Ryan McDonagh’s wraparound attempt past Martin Brodeur 9:47 into the second period to cut the lead to 2-1. The match was tied five minutes later when Dan Girardi’s point shot ricocheted off Ryan Callahan’s leg.
“It’s hard. It’s the worst feeling you can feel,” Callahan said. “We played hard all year, we had a great year, fought back in this game [and] showed a lot of character to come back. It’s tough.”
Especially when you don’t take advantage of breaks. The Rangers outshot New Jersey 21-12 in the second and third periods but could not get the go-ahead goal past Brodeur (33 saves), while the Devils were able to score one last goal on Henrik Lundqvist (26 saves).
“I thought the third period we controlled territorially,” Tortorella said. “We felt very comfortable as we played those last two periods. But they make a big play at the end.”
To end the Rangers’ season.
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman