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And then there were two: Rangers’ gas tank hits empty

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If the New York Rangers really were tired, then the New Jersey Devils certainly didn’t help matters. The Blueshirts’ local rivals didn’t humiliate them, but they did enough to prove their superiority and ultimately bump the East’s top seed out of the playoffs with a 4-2 series win thanks to a 3-2 OT win.

What happened?

Blame it on fatigue if you want, but the Devils were just too much for the Rangers. New Jersey had too much talent; Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise proved to be a superior one-two punch compared to Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. The Devils boasted too much depth as Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta scored huge goals. Ultimately, their forecheck was just too fierce and the Blueshirts found themselves chasing the Devils more often than not in the series.

Who takes the blame?

Michael Del Zotto is the easy scapegoat for the Rangers, and no doubt about it, he was on the ice for many of the team’s worst moments. You can say that he still has some room for improvement.

That shouldn’t excuse Richards and Gaborik, though, as they were often MIA in this six-game series. Gaborik, in general, was quite inconsistent in this year’s playoffs. It’ll be interesting to hear if the fragile star has been fighting off injuries because he wasn’t very good – not exactly what you want to see from a winger who registers a $7.5 million annual cap hit.

Overall, there weren’t many Rangers who will look back at this series without at least a slight feeling of regret.

What will they do about it?

If you believe the whispers, the Rangers might still be in the Rick Nash sweepstakes. Depending upon what he’d cost, that move might just be worth it because New York could use a boost. At the same time, Glen Sather’s lust for splashy moves has been a double-edged sword; his expensive imports have only worked out relatively well recently. (See: Holik, Bobby and Gomez, Scott, among many others.)

The Rangers have plenty of youth beyond their big-name guys, though, so it’s reasonable to assume that there could be some improvement from within. Henrik Lundqvist probably has a few more elite years left and surely you’ve heard all the gushing reviews about youngsters such as Chris Kreider.

The future still should be bright in the Big Apple, yet one cannot help but wonder how many times they’ll be able to avoid formidable East teams, like their division mates in Philly and Pittsburgh.

More

And then there were 15: Is Detroit’s dynasty on its last legs?

And then there were 14: Sharks come out flat in playoffs

And then there were 13: Powerhouse Pens fall flat

And then there were 12: Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks bounced in Round 1

And then there were 11: Another first-round exit for Blackhawks

And then there were 10: Bruins run out of Game 7 magic

And then there were nine: Senators out, but future’s bright

And then there were eight: Panthers go out swinging

And then there were seven: Blues swept out of Western Conference semifinal

And then there were six: So much for Nashville’s mid-season reload

And then there were five: New-look Flyers produce familiar results

And then there were four: Capitals fall just short in Game 7

And then there were three: Coyotes’ run falls short

For Sens, Phaneuf brings experience and ‘security on the back end’

OTTAWA, CANADA - APRIL 12: Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs passes the puck against Erik Condra #22 of the Ottawa Senators on April 12, 2014 at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)
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If it felt like this morning’s Dion Phaneuf trade came out of the blue, well, it kinda did.

According to Senators GM Bryan Murray, talks only got “serious” this past weekend during a phone call with Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello.

“He called me about something else,” said Murray. “I brought up Dion’s name.”

The way the Sens had been playing, it’s no surprise to hear that Murray had been looking for a “little more security on the back end,” as he put it.

“You hear people talk all the time that we’re dreadful in our own end,” he said. “We haven’t been great. We’re getting better. This we believe will be a good addition. It’s about getting an experienced leader, good person, hard-working, competitive guy to add to the mix in our top four.”

Phaneuf is expected to start on the Sens’ second pairing with Cody Ceci. Ottawa’s top d-man, Erik Karlsson, typically skates with Marc Methot.

While Murray called the multi-player deal a “hockey trade,” he conceded there were financial considerations involved.

“It had to work financially for us, as well as for Toronto,” he said. “It gives them relief in the latter part of the contract, I suspect, and it gives us some working pieces to go forward with for the next couple of years.”

What do the Sens expect from Phaneuf?

“Just to be a solid person, player,” said Murray. “Come in and give a little experience to the back end. Play his game the way he plays it.”

“He’ll just bring, we hope, a presence to this organization,” Murray continued. “It appears right now that we’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to be fitted in and playing. Our depth and youth, it’s good. We just needed a little bit of help.”

One thing Murray doesn’t expect?

“We don’t expect him to come in here to be a savior. We expect him to come in here and just be the hockey player that he is.”

Ottawa plays tomorrow in Detroit, where Phaneuf is expected to make his Senators debut.

The Sens and Leafs play March 5 in Toronto.

No hearing scheduled for Abdelkader after Barkov hit

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There’s no disciplinary hearing scheduled for Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader following his big check on Florida’s Aleksander Barkov last night, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

The incident, which occurred early in the second period, left Barkov woozy and forced him from the game entirely. Abdelkader wasn’t penalized on the play — that, along with the hit itself, infuriated the Panthers and head coach Gerard Gallant.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald.

“I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way,” Gallant added, noting that Abdelkader “left his feet a little and got [Barkov] in the jaw.”

Abdelkader has run afoul of the Department of Player Safety before. He was suspended two games during the ’13 playoffs for a hit on then-Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman.

The Panthers are back in action tonight, as they take on the Sabres in Buffalo.

Detroit doesn’t play again until Wednesday, when it hosts the Sens at Joe Louis.

Dion Phaneuf traded to Senators

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 07:  Jordan Nolan #71 of the Los Angeles Kings is knocked off balance by Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Staples Center on January 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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And this is why we listen when Bob McKenzie says something.

The Ottawa Senators have acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf, forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, and Ryan Rupert and undrafted defensive prospect Cody Donaghey from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Jared Cowen, forwards Colin Greening, Milan Michalek and Tobias Lindberg, plus Ottawa’s second-round pick in the 2017 draft.

No salary will be retained by either team.

From the Leafs’ perspective, the trade provides even more cap flexibility for their rebuild. Phaneuf is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million; he’s entirely on Ottawa’s books now. As for the guys coming to Toronto, Michalek, Cowen, and Greening are only under contract through next season, for a combined cap hit of around $10 million. And according to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, both Cowen and Greening could be bought out by the Leafs this offseason.

The Sens, meanwhile, get to add a workhorse defenseman to a blue line that already includes Erik Karlsson. Plus, they rid themselves of some onerous contracts.

Report: ‘Lots of Dion Phaneuf trade chatter’

Dion Phaneuf
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This isn’t the first time Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf has come up in trade rumors — far from it — but since it’s TSN’s Bob McKenzie putting it out there, we should probably listen.

“Hearing lots of Dion Phaneuf trade chatter,” McKenzie tweeted this morning. “Starting to think he could actually be dealt before the deadline.”

Phaneuf has three goals and 21 assists in 51 games this season, while logging an average of 22:02 in ice time. The big factor in trading the 30-year-old is his contract — he’s signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million. 

Responding to McKenzie on Twitter, TSN’s Darren Dreger seemed to suggest Ottawa as a potential landing spot. The Sens, as we’ve noted recently, have had all sorts of defensive issues this season.

In the past, Detroit has come up as a potential destination for Phaneuf, though the Wings reportedly withdrew their interest in June.