Today is the day that the Stanley Cup playoffs would have started. Let’s imagine that the season was never suspended and the New York Rangers continued to play. Here’s the Blue Line Station story we would have liked to see.
Let’s fantasize a little. What would have been the best case scenario for the New York Rangers if the season had never ended? Here we go!
Wednesday, April 8 marks a return to the playoffs for the New York Rangers. In one of the biggest surprises of the 2019-20 season, the youngest team in the NHL made the playoffs on the last day of the season and now face a huge challenge: the big, bad Boston Bruins.
The Blueshirts have had three full days to recover from their roller coaster ride of a season. Despite one of the toughest schedules down the stretch, the Rangers were able to overcome all odds and slip past the Blue Jackets and the hated Islanders into the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. As a result, they are considered an Atlantic Division playoff team and will face the Bruins, winners of the Presidents Trophy with the best record in the NHL.
The stretch run
The Blueshirts had used a dramatic comeback against the Colorado Avalanche as the springboard for an impressive six game winning streak that included a home and away sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. That streak was ended with consecutive road losses in Washington and Tampa, but the Rangers were buoyed by the early return of Chris Kreider from his broken foot. He came back in time to score a crucial goals in a road win in Florida and at home against the Flyers.
Despite a crushing loss in Pittsburgh featuring a last minute game winner for the Penguins, the Rangers were able to get into the postseason by winning their season finale at home against the Blackhawks.
The Rangers finished with a record of 46-31-5 for 97 points. The Blue Jackets and Islanders both finished with 96 points. When the Blue Jackets lost their season finale, 4-1, in Carolina on Friday night, it meant the Rangers had to win their last game to move ahead of them in the standings.
The last day
The Blueshirts final game was a matinee against Chicago and the Blueshirts easily won a game that was meaningless to the Blackhawks. Igor Shesterkin got his first NHL shutout as the Rangers won 6-0. Mika Zibanejad continued his torrid scoring, notching his 50th goal of the season with a hat trick. Kaapo Kakko incredibly hit the 20 goal mark with 12 goals in his last 14 games. Most of those came after David Quinn moved him to the Strome/Panarin line when Jesper Fast was injured in the March 14 game in Arizona. Kakko notched a hat trick in that game with Panarin getting the primary assist on each of the goals.
At that point, all the Rangers could do was watch as the Islanders played the Devils that evening. Going into the game trailing the Blueshirts by one point, the Isles had to win as the Rangers owned the regulation wins tiebreaker.
It was a nail biter for Ranger fans going into the third period tied 2-2. The Devils scored two quick goals for a 4-2 lead and when the Devils took a penalty, Islander coach Barry Trotz had to pull his goalie with five minutes left in a desperate attempt to tie the score.
The move backfired when the Devils scored into the empty net and added two more empty net goals as the game ended as a lopsided 7-2 win for New Jersey.
Panarin finished the season with 114 points, scoring 39 goals and 75 assists. Those 75 assists were the third most in franchise history and the most every scored by a forward. Brian Leetch holds the record with 80 and Sergei Zubov is second with 77.
Zibanjead became the fourth player in franchise history to hit the 50 goal mark and he is the first Ranger center to accomplish the feat.
Igor Shesterkin finished his remarkable run by winning nine of his last ten games and he finished with 19 wins against only three losses.
The Rangers open the playoffs on the road against the Bruins. This will be the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs since 2013 when the Bruins won their Semi-Finals series in five games. Both teams are healthy and Tukka Rask will get the nod in goal with Shesterkin in net for the Rangers.
In controversial move, the Rangers announced that Alexandar Georgiev will be the back-up to Shesterkin and Henrk Lundqvist will not dress. Lundqvist didn’t see any action down the stretch while Georgiev got only one start, a losing effort against Tampa.
Back to reality
Okay…back to reality folks. We continue to wait to see if the Rangers’ playoff dreams will end up happening. The odds are against them making the playoffs and we may not see another game this season, but it’s fun to play the “what if” game. Thanks for indulging in one fan’s fantasy.