In today’s NHL, playoff seedings are merely a number. There are no safe bets when it comes to a first-round matchup. Ironically for the New York Rangers, the higher they achieve, the less friendly their first playoff series in five seasons might be.
As the Rangers head into their third meeting against the Hurricanes, they jockey with them for first place of the Metropolitan Division — a position that would set them against the first wild card: a spot that is destined for either Tampa Bay or Boston.
The Eastern Conference playoff landscape embodies seven legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, so the road will be challenging no matter what. But if the Rangers were to finish in second, they would play Pittsburgh — which based upon regular season meetings — it’s a matchup the Rangers would hold the edge.
Regular season meetings don’t always necessarily influence the playoffs, but it’s the best measuring stick available. The Rangers outplayed Pittsburgh for a majority of the four games they met this season. They outscored the Penguins 11-4 and won the series 3-1.
So why not apply the same logic to Tampa Bay? The Rangers found similar success against the Lightning and outscored them 10-4 and swept the series 3-0.
Tampa Bay is rolling off eight consecutive playoff series victories and their veteran experience in the dance and proven spring chemistry could be a frightening first-time feat for a novice Rangers group.
While the Rangers have the league’s hottest goaltender in Igor Shesterkin, the Lightning have his likely toughest counterpart in Andrei Vasilevskiy. It’s a matchup that would be best preserved for a conference final.
Everyone knows Stanley Cup runs are built upon excellent goaltending and it’s difficult to imagine Shesterkin losing four out of seven games right now. The Rangers would have a firm advantage over a Tristan Jarry or a Jeremy Swayman to open the postseason.
The Rangers have also outscored Boston 7-3 and hold a 2-0 record against them this year. But like the Lightning, the Bruins also have the notable experience and their window closes a little more each year they get knocked out. One might think this year will be Boston’s last ditch effort to get Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand their second Cup.
This Blueshirts group may be young and have virtually no playoff experience together or at all. But with the talent and potential the Rangers have proven throughout this season, if they can find their footing in the first round, the sky’s the limit.