His game sweater was off, but his goalie pads remained on. Henrik Lundqvist sat in his stall in the visitors dressing room at TD Garden Saturday night, stunned at the abrupt end to his team’s season following the Bruins’ 3-1 victory.
The Bruins knocked the Rangers out of the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games and it was through no fault of Lundqvist, who battled as hard as possible.
In the end though, Boston was the better team, and Lundqvist acknowledged that.
“When they got going, almost every game, we had a tough time to match it,’’ said Lundqvist. “The last couple of games, though, we gave ourselves a chance but it took us a few games to get there. They’re a great team. The style they play, they made it really tough for our [defense], they play physical. They really only gave us something the last game [Game 4], a couple of goals there. They play a really solid game, I think. We stepped up our game here the last couple of games, but I still think we had another level the first couple of games and when you play a good team like Boston, you can’t afford that.’’
The Rangers made it to the Eastern Conference finals last season before succumbing to the Devils, but this was a different Rangers squad, one whose makeup had changed with a couple of key players missing. But the Rangers offered no excuses. They said the correct team is advancing to face the Penguins in the conference finals.
“I expected more from us and I hoped for more,’’ said Lundqvist, who had 29 saves Saturday. “The way the season went, last year a lot of things went our way and we had a lot of confidence. This year, we had to work through a lot of things to get going and it came down to the last few games. It was a different season. It was just a different feeling. We had to work a little harder to get the result. I think it’s real important, we have a pretty young team, that we learn from this.’’
Chances are they can take a few lessons from the tenacity the Bruins displayed.
“Boston came out flying the first few games,’’ said Lundqvist. “It’s a combination of them playing really well and us not reaching our top level to beat them.’’
Lundqvist said if the Rangers had started the series with the same energy level and determination with which they ended it, it might have been different.
“We had great energy here the last couple of games, or half the last game actually,’’ he said. “It turned for us on that [Carl Hagelin goal, when Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask fell in Game 4]. It almost felt like we were waiting for something good to happen. It just took too long for something good to happen. I don’t know if it would’ve made a difference [if they had played better earlier] but they played a great series. Every game, they made it really tough for us.’’
At times when the Bruins were elevating their level of play, the Rangers couldn’t match it.
“Normally when we play Boston, I face 13, 14, maybe 15 scoring chances and around 30 shots,’’ said Lundqvist. “Every game here it was over 20 scoring chances. It was a test every game to keep it close. It was definitely a tough game to play. It was fun to be out there, I enjoyed it. It was intense and they really tested us and tested me. I’m really disappointed right now, though. It’s an empty feeling.’’
None of the Rangers felt the reality had yet sunk in but it will, soon enough.
“The hardest feeling is realizing it’s over,’’ said Lundqvist. “I think in the next couple of days, we’re going to analyze things and try to figure out what went wrong and what you can do better and you try to learn from it but right now, it’s just an empty feeling, disappointment. Some years, you don’t really have a chance to go that far in the playoffs. You just battle hard. This year, we had a pretty good team, I just think there were a few games where we didn’t reach our top level and when you play a team like Boston, it’s going to be tough to beat them.’’
Lundqvist said the Bruins were excellent not only in front of the Rangers net but in front of their own net as well, and the Rangers were hamstrung as a result.
“Through the entire series, they come hard and they bring in a lot of guys and they just scope for rebounds,’’ he said. “A lot of goals they scored were shots with screens and disguises in front. That’s why you just have to give them credit, too. We battled hard and I’m proud of the way we responded the last couple of games and stepped it up, but I think looking at all the games here, they deserved to win, no question.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.