The Blueshirts have been pretty consistent in getting the seventh or eighth seed these past few seasons, but only barely. The last few weeks of the season are always a grueling battle for them, and, usually, their playoff position is an ‘if’ rather than a ‘where.’
This year though, that question is where, but not just that. What is best for this team going into the postseason and beyond?
If the playoffs were to start today, the Rangers would rematch the Capitals in the first round. But there’s still a ways to go before it’s all set in stone.
What are the possible outcomes?
There is a strong chance the Rangers will finish the season in the top three of the Eastern Conference. They’ve sat first in the east more or less the entire season, and it seems things will stay this way.
The major concern with the Rangers keeping the top place in the conference and in the east is the news that Sidney Crosby will be back with the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 15 against (how ironic) the Rangers. The Penguins are offensively frightening as it is and now that Lundqvist is out with the flu, this game will truly be a test of how badly the Rangers are willing to fight for that top seed.
Even if I do think fans will do their part in helping the Rangers win against Pittsburgh; they have’t been able to try and torment Crosby once this season, so there’s a lot of bottled up nastiness for Blueshirts fans to unleash.
Of course, one game will not determine who finishes first. However, both of these teams are going to battle for that first place spot as if the playoffs were starting tomorrow and the Penguins were one point behind in the standings.
Because whoever ends up in fourth is going to have a tough time come April.
Right now, it’s likely the Washington Capitals will pull forward to finish ahead of the Florida Panthers for the number three spot. If the Rangers do end the season in first place, the first round will (knock on wood) be a cakewalk for them. Florida is a bit speedier, but the Rangers edge them out everywhere else. Plus, if the rumors of bringing Chris Kreider in for the post season become reality, a new speed factor gets thrown into the mix.
Bringing Kreider on the team at such a critical time is a huge risk, but who knows? Maybe he’ll be the difference maker. Maybe he is the missing link in the Rangers scoring woes.
However, this is the best case scenario. It’s the kind of thing that’s a dream come true for those who don the blue. And if Rangers fans know anything, it’s how to be cynical and realize that the best case scenario is hardly a reality. Things could get really bad if the Penguins pull ahead and the Rangers get slotted in fourth.
If the Rangers finish in fourth come season’s end, they’re going to have to face either Philadelphia or New Jersey. Regardless of who you are, those are two teams no one would want to go up against in the first round.
For the Rangers, it isn’t because they aren’t capable of beating either team, but because both will beat you up, and they’ll bang you around real good.
Yes, the Rangers have beaten the Flyers in every game they’ve played this season. Yes, the Rangers always do well against the Devils in the playoffs. Yes, the Rangers are a better team than both of them and should beat them come April. However, these games are always physical and assumedly take a lot of mental strain as well.
Playing a team like Florida or
Ottawa puts no emotional pressure on the Rangers, but a conference, tri-state area rivalry that dates back generations can do a lot to a player’s psyche. Both the Flyers and Devils are physical, and they’re not going down without a fight. Sure, the Rangers have the right mindset for a nice, long playoff run, but that run could be cut down short if either rival is able to break their physical toughness down.
There’s still a ways to go, but the Blueshirts should keep in mind that wherever they finish out the season can have a pretty drastic effect on whether they get a certain trophy this summer.