The end was both extended and over in the blink of an eye, something that never quites make sense outside of the NHL playoffs.
Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals kept going and going, with the Rangers and Devils tied at two until overtime finally arrived. It would take extra time to extend or extinguish the Rangers season, but it was over just as we settled in for the extra session.
Adam Henrique's goal sent the Devils on to face the Kings and it left the Rangers painfully close yet painfully far from their ultimate goal of the season. So it is when you win the Eastern Conference in the regular season, brawl your way to the conference finals and then wind up being outplayed for much of the series by a team that seemed to peak at the right time.
The bitterness of the ending doesn't take away the sweetness of everything that came before. The Rangers were among the class of hockey for the first time in ages, they had better results than their talent dictated and, best of all, it looks like there are even better days ahead.
We've talked a lot about 1994 in these parts in recent weeks, but it hasn't been mentioned much that this Rangers loss feels an awful lot like the one the Devils suffered back then. A young team, coming to grips with what they are capable of doing, loses a heartbreak series to a team that was better by just enough to squeeze out the win.
They came back the next year and won the whole thing. It's early to say what kind of chance the Rangers have to do that, but the pieces are in place.
The Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto quartet on defense should only be better with a full season from Staal, Chris Kreider hasn't even played a regular season game yet and Henrik Lundqvist should be the same guy he was this season. That's not enough to win on its own, of course, so here are three things we've learned about the Rangers this season that can help them go further next year.
1. You Were Both Right About Rick Nash - With the trade deadline coming up, there was a heated debate about whether or not the Rangers should trade for Columbus forward Rick Nash. The proponents pointed out that the Rangers needed someone to put the puck in the net, and the detractors derided the idea of fussing with the core of such a good team.
Both sides were correct. The Rangers desperately need a scorer of Nash's pedigree to go with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards up front, but not at the expense of the deep roster that helped the Rangers get where they want to go.
Getting that scorer is job one for the Rangers this offseason. That leads us right to our next point.
2. Put the Power Back Into the Power Play - Another scorer would help here, but so would more consistent work on faceoffs and a more sound strategy for moving the puck in the offensive end. The Rangers should be in the market for a power play guru, whether it is Brian Leetch or not, so that they cease giving away those opportunities.
3. Embrace Change - While the Rangers appear to be on the cusp, things don't usually work out quite so easily. They can't just show up and expect to be better so that means there will be some players leaving who will be missed.
That's part of life and, at this point, you've got to trust Glen Sather and John Tortorella's ability to make the right decisions on that front. They've put the team on the doorstep, but it will take a little bit extra to get them in the house.