Ranking the New York Rangers potential playoff opponents

Jun 11, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; the Tampa Bay Lightning shake hands with New York Rangers after the Lightning victory in game six of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 11, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; the Tampa Bay Lightning shake hands with New York Rangers after the Lightning victory in game six of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /
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The New York Rangers celebrate their playoff victory over the New York Islanders on the ice at Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, 1979. Visible players include Steve Vickers (#8, left), John Davidson, Ed Johnstone, and Doug Soetaert (extreme right). (Photo by Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images) /

#2  New York Islanders

Younger fans may think that ranking the Islanders as the Rangers’ number two playoff opponent is giving them too much credit.  But if you have followed this team for half a century, the Islanders remain the Blueshirts’ most hated opponent. The teams haven’t played each in the playoffs since 1994, but they faced each other eight times in 19 seasons starting in 1975 and each of those meetings was epic.

It began in the preliminary round in 1975 when the upstart Islanders won a three-game series on J.P. Parise’s overtime goal.  The Blueshirts got revenge in 1979 along with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, beating the favored Fishsticks in six games.

The Islanders prevailed in all four meetings in the next five years en route to four straight Stanley Cups.  Arguably, those were the darkest days of any rivalry for any New York sports team. Mention Ken Morrow’s name to a longtime Ranger fan and look for a reaction.

The Rangers got their ultimate revenge in the 1994 Quarter-Finals when they swept the Islanders on the way to ending 54 years of futility.  Since then the two teams have traded years of playoff droughts.

As for the current teams, a playoff meeting could be the first chapter of what will be years of rivalry between Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin.

Do you want more?  Who can forget Denis Potvin breaking Ulf Nilsson’s ankle?  Bryan Trottier’s disastrous tenure as Rangers coach?   What about the “double chili” 10-5 loss in 1979?  A meeting in 2023 would restore some of the playoff venom between two teams that still hate each other.

#1  New Jersey Devils

New York vs. New Jersey.  Alexis Lafreniere vs. Jack Hughes.  Adam Fox vs. Dougie Hamilton.  Youth and speed vs. experience and skill.  This is the series that everyone is waiting for.   Anything less than a seven-game series will be a disappointment and the team that wins this series will come out of it as a Stanley Cup favorite.

The teams have met six times in the playoffs with the Rangers owning a 4-2 edge.  Most memorable are the two trips to the Conference Finals.  The 1994 Eastern Conference Finals remains one of the greatest playoff series ever, with three games decided in double overtime.  Matteau’s series-winning goal is one of the greatest moments in Blueshirts’ history. It is challenged by Mark Messier’s hat trick in a Game Six he guaranteed to win.

In 2012, John Tortorella’s team had taken a 2-1 series lead only to drop three in a row with the dagger of an overtime goal in Game Six by Adam Henrique to eliminate the Blueshirts and propel the Devils to a Stanley Cup Final loss to the Kings.

There is more.  The Devils’ defense feature ex-Ranger Brendan Smith and former prospect Ryan Graves. Jimmy Vesey was a Devil one season ago.  And let’s not forget that Lindy Ruff is two seasons removed from his tenure as a Rangers assistant coach under David Quinn.

The series could render a verdict on the two teams’ trade deadline acquisitions.  Will Timo Meier be a game-breaker for the Devils, or will it be Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane who do it for the Blueshirts?

Still, it’s how Jack Hughes fares that are most anticipated.  How will he compare to Kaapo Kakko, the second-overall pick from 2019?  How will he fare compared to Alexis Lafreniere, the top overall pick one year later?

What do you think?

These rankings are purely subjective.  A lot depends on how long you have been a fan of the New York Rangers.  Older fans will never lose their grudge against the Islanders while younger fans may consider the Kings the target of their hatred.  The newest fans may consider the Hurricanes the biggest challenge.

Feel free to weigh in with your rankings (probably your top five make the most sense).   Feel free to share your own memories of playoff triumphs and failures.  No matter what, it will be a thrilling postseason.

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