"We all believe we should still be playing," coach Alain Vigneault said Thursday. "We're not. It's very, very disappointing. It is going to take some time to get over."
After again falling short of their own lofty expectations, the players were at the team's suburban practice facility for a day of individual meetings with Vigneault and general manager Jeff Gorton before dispersing for the summer.
"There's no question it's a tough time right now," captain Ryan McDonagh said. "You get to that second round and that's when you really start to believe. You're one step closer to where you want to be, what you're playing for. To see that opportunity missed, it really hurt our team."
It was another disappointment for a team perennially expected to compete for a Stanley Cup, which it has won once in the last 77 years - in 1994.
"At the end of the day we needed a lot better play out of the majority of the group," McDonagh said.
When the Rangers return for training camp in September, the core group that reached three conference finals in four years, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 before a first-round exit to eventual champion Pittsburgh a year ago and now Ottawa in the second round, is certain to have undergone some changes. There could be some trades and signings, and the team will likely lose a player in the expansion draft.
"We always expect changes, that's part of the business," veteran goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "But what changes, we'll have to wait and see. It's up to management ... it's part of the business, obviously, to see some guys go and new faces come in."
The Rangers had ups and downs on their way to finishing with 102 points. They were the league's best road team with 27 wins away from home, but had their struggles at Madison Square Garden, including losing eight straight (0-5-3) on home ice down the stretch.
By earning the Eastern Conference's top wild card, the Rangers had a seemingly easier path to the conference finals through the Atlantic Division teams, avoiding Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus - three of the top four teams in the league - in the first two rounds. However, after getting past Montreal, they fell short against Ottawa.
The strong road play that carried them through the season and the first round deserted them against the Senators. The Rangers lost all three games in Ottawa, twice blowing two-goal leads and allowing the tying goal in the closing minutes of regulation before losing in overtime.
"At this time of year if you give up two leads in a series and lose in overtime, you're going to have a tough time winning the series," center Derek Stepan said.
There were plenty of bright spots, though. The Rangers infused the lineup with some youth, getting strong play from rookies Brady Skjei, Jimmy Vesey and 19-year-old Pavel Buchnevich. New York was among the league leaders in scoring, rolling out four strong lines and finishing with four 20-goal scorers and 11 players with at least 34 points.
"There were a lot of things that can be pointed out that we are making strides in the right direction," Vigneault said. "When we sit down in about 10 days and evaluate our season and what we do moving forward, they are some positives to take out of this year."
The Rangers stepped up their power play down the stretch of the regular season, going 13 for 38 over the last 15 games of the season, but then went just 3 for 39 against the Canadiens and Senators. In Game 6 against Ottawa, the Rangers were 0 for 4 on the power play, including three chances in the first period.
"That last game, with the opportunities we had early in the game, those definitely are in my mind that stick out," McDonagh said. "Finding ways to score a goal in a crucial time is a difference, one or two plays makes a difference in a game."
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