Latest on the Rangers’ playoff prospects

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 08: The original Stanley Cup rests in a vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 8, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 08: The original Stanley Cup rests in a vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 8, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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So, did anything change when the New York Rangers beat the Islanders 6-3 last night?   Nothing was decided, but there were some developments in the Eastern Conference playoffs situation.

First and most important, the Rangers clinched second place.  Though they can still finish first, they will finish no lower than second and are guaranteed home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

They may be guaranteed home ice, but the Rangers still have four possible first round playoff opponents.

In the race for first place, both Carolina and the Rangers won so they kept pace with each other.  The Hurricanes fell behind 2-0 to Winnipeg, giving Blueshirts fans hope, but they came back to win 4-2.  The two teams remain tied for first place though the Hurricanes own the regulation or overtime win (ROW) tiebreaker with 48 to the Rangers’ 47.

Here are the standings:

Metropolitan Division

Carolina:  108 points,  49 ROW,  4 games left
Rangers:   108 points, 47 ROW, 4 games left
Pittsburgh:  99 points, 41 ROW,  4 games left
Washington:  97 points, 38 ROW, 5 games left

Atlantic Division

Florida:   118 points, 53 ROW,  5 games left
Toronto:  108 points,  49 ROW,  4 games left
Tampa:   102 points,  45 ROW,  5 games left
Boston:  99 points,  45 ROW,  5 games left

Thursday’s games

The Penguins beat the Bruins 4-0 and have to be encouraged by the shutout pitched by Casey DeSmith.  The win opened up their lead over the Capitals to two points, though Washington has played one fewer game.

Tampa demolished Toronto 8-1 in a game that meant a lot more to the Lightning than the Maple Leafs.  It gave them a three point margin over the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division.

The Florida Panthers beat the Red Wings 5-2 and opened a two point lead over Colorado in the race for the President’s Trophy.

Who the Rangers could play

If the Rangers finish first:

Boston:  If the standings remain the same and the Rangers finish in the top slot, they will play the Bruins.
Tampa:  If Boston can overtake Tampa for third place in the Atlantic Division, the Rangers could play Tampa as long as the Lightning finish ahead of Washington or Pittsburgh in the first wild card spot.
Washington:  They play the Capitals if Washington can overtake Boston or Tampa for the top wild card spot.
Pittsburgh:  They play the Penguins if Pittsburgh finishes in the first wild card spot, ahead of Boston or Tampa

If the Rangers finish second:

Pittsburgh:  They play the Penguins if Pittsburgh holds onto third place ahead of the Capitals.
Washington:  They play the Capitals if Washington can overtake Pittsburgh for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Friday’s games

The only game of note is the Capitals’ road game in Arizona.  Washington wants to win and keep pace with the Penguins in the race for third place.  A win will also put the Caps in a points tie for the first wild card spot.  It’s a late 10:30pm start on the East Coast.  This is the game in hand for the Capitals so it really is a must win game for them. The fact that Pittsburgh has three more ROW’s than Washington makes catching the Penguins a tough task.

Who to root for? Pick your poison.  The Blueshirts are still most likely to play Pittsburgh or Washington in the first round.

Who they play

Here are the games remaining for all of the East contenders:

Rangers (5):  @ Boston, Carolina, Montreal, Washington
Hurricanes (5):   @ New Jersey, @ Islanders, @ Rangers, New Jersey
Pittsburgh (5):   @ Detroit, @ Philadelphia, Edmonton, Columbus
Washington (5):  @ Arizona, Toronto, Islanders, @ Islanders, @ Rangers
Tampa (6):  Nashville, @ Florida, Columbus, @ Columbus, @ Islanders
Boston (6):  Rangers, @ Montreal, Florida, Buffalo, @ Toronto

The Rangers’ next game in Boston is important in their race for first place, but it is really a must win for the Bruins if they have any hopes of finishing in third place in the Atlantic Division.  Furthermore, the Capitals are dangerously close to passing the Bruins as well in the wild card race.

Remember, the second wild card team (currently Washington) has a date with the class of the NHL, the Florida Panthers in the first round.

One playoff match-up was decided last night, but it was in the West.  The Minnesota Wild will meet the St. Louis Blues in the first rounds, but home ice has yet to be decided with the Wild just two points up on the Blues right now.

We’ll keep you updated every day.

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