Nightmare of a season over for Rangers


NEW YORK -- When it was over, the Rangers gave a few lucky fans the shirts off their backs. What they should have done is reimburse them for their tickets.

Nobody got his money's worth during the Blueshirts' $61 million nightmare season, which mercifully came to an end yesterday afternoon with a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden. The building was half empty for the noon start, and many who showed up were rooting for the Flyers, who edged the Devils for the Eastern Conference title with the victory.

On the other hand, the Rangers finished the season with a nine-game winless streak (0-8-1) and with just one victory in their final 14 games (1-11-2). For the record, they ended up 29-41-12. Consequently, they missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

General manager Neil Smith and head coach John Muckler have been fired. More changes are sure to come.

"It's the end of a nightmare, that's for sure," said interim coach John Tortorella. "As far as the organization is concerned, I guess the best thing to do now is start looking ahead because we're rock bottom right now. I guess that's the good part. It's the start of a new, fact-finding mission throughout the summer, trying to figure out the problems with the team and hopefully build from here, because you can't get any lower."

Garden president Dave Checketts and assistant general manager Don Maloney will hold end-of-the-season meetings with the players this week.

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