NHL: Eastern Conference Playoff Picture, Scenarios

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Apr 6, 2015; New York, NY, USA; The New York Rangers celebrate their overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers defeated the Blue Jackets 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers possibilities of first-round opponents has now been cut down to five teams. What about the entire Eastern Conference though?

There’s no question about it: defending a championship is tough.

This sentiment especially hits home hard when realizing the National Hockey League’s hard salary-cap has created a “Parity-Giant” of a situation. Any of the 16 playoff teams can make a run for the ages and force an imprint of their names on that Stanley Cup.

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  • Look no further than the Los Angeles Kings from a season ago. As a No. 8 seed, the tried and tested group in LA picked up their second cup in the last three seasons.

    It’s actually obscene these days. Not only did the Kings come up with that feat, they were down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks in the first-round.

    The new system has led to an overly exciting product on the ice.

    This is not great news for any Presidents’ Trophy winner. In fact, only eight times in history has the Presidents’ Trophy winner won the cup since the award’s inception in 1985. One of these occasions was in 1994.

    Nevertheless, there’s no arguing the New York Rangers are entering the 2015 playoffs in a much better spot than they did a season ago.

    Last year we witnessed Ryan McDonagh struggle in the first-round of the playoffs after getting back from a long injury absence. The team also had to endure without one of their bigger bodies in Chris Kreider.

    It’s about time Rangers fans can relax a bit before entering the most anxious days of the year.

    Apr 9, 2015; New York, NY, USA; NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly presents the Presidents Trophy to New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh prior to the game against the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

    The Blueshirts were so good this season that they are now afforded the luxury of resting guys – aside from Henrik Lundqvist, of course, who provided us all heart-palpitations Thursday night against Ottawa.

    But I digress.

    Even though it’s just the Prince of Wales trophy, the Rangers will be hard-pressed to duplicate the magic we saw during the Spring of 2014.

    You don’t think a championship is tough to defend? Tell that to the Kings who were just eliminated from playoff contention.

    So, as Alain Vigneault and his crew take a gander at the path ahead of them, all he sees are clouds. With only two days left in the regular season, we still don’t know the Rangers first-round opponent.

    Furthermore, the Eastern Conference is a fog of smoke; as anybody’s guess could be the correct one.

    The next five slides will take you through the Eastern Conference Playoff Picture, Scenarios, and delving into the specifics as it pertains to each of the possible first-round matchups for the Blueshirts.

    Here we go:

    Next: Eastern Conference Playoff Picture and Scenarios