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Rangers leave disappointed after Presidents' Trophy curse hits them in East final

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — When it was over, Vincent Trocheck wrapped his arms around goaltender Igor Shesterkin. Mika Zibanejad took a knee along the boards, watching Florida celebrate. Some other members of the New York Rangers stared blankly, just waiting for the handshake line to form.

The best team in the regular season isn't going to the Stanley Cup Final — again.

This time, that would be the Rangers. There hasn't been a Presidents' Trophy winner to double up with the Stanley Cup in 11 years, and New York is the latest team to find itself on the wrong end of that curse. The Rangers — the No. 1 overall seed after finishing with the most points in the regular season — lost to Florida 2-1 on Saturday night, losing the Eastern Conference final in six games.

“There’s a disappointment that sets in. We are dealing with that right now,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said. "Nobody was expecting to be on this end of it. We were expecting to come here tonight, win a hockey game and bring it back to (Madison Square Garden) for a Game 7. So, there’s a disappointment.”

The margin was so small; a six-game series and five of them were one-goal games. New York allowed Florida only 16 goals in the series. Problem was, the Rangers only scored 12.

It was a goalie duel and New York's Shesterkin was absurdly good — 2.25 goals-against average, .930 save percentage. But Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky matched him — 1.89 goals-against average, .921 save percentage.

“He’s been our best player ever since he put on the Rangers jersey,” Rangers forward Chris Kreider said of Shesterkin. "We’ve been incredibly lucky to have him. ... He gives us a chance to win every night.”

Until Saturday, this East title series followed a script that ardent Rangers fans know well and would have done anything to see fully repeated: New York loses Game 1, wins Games 2 and 3, loses Games 4 and 5, then goes on the road to win Game 6 and keep the season alive.

Such was the exact order of events in the 1994 East final, when the Rangers beat New Jersey in double overtime to win Game 7 and then went on to snap a 54-year championship drought by beating Vancouver in the Stanley Cup Final.

Not this time.

There were six games in this series; five of them finished as one-goal games, and Florida won the last three of them — 3-2, 3-2 and then 2-1. A bounce here, a bounce there, the whole thing might have been very different for New York.

“Not a lot of answers right now,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. “Nobody gave up. The effort and compete was there. We just came up short.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL