The New York Rangers sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 106 points and two games left to play. With second place almost out of reach, most consider these few remaining games meaningless except for the risk of injury. As Blueline Station reader Ian M. pointed out, the Rangers’ final point total could have huge implications for the playoffs. We are talking about home-ice advantage.
The Rangers own the fifth-best record when it comes to point total, but that could change. Here’s what it would mean for each round of the playoffs.
The Rangers are almost guaranteed to be the road team if the series goes seven games. That’s because they will be playing either the Carolina Hurricanes or New Jersey Devils. If the Blueshirts win both of their remaining games (Buffalo and Toronto), they will finish with 110 points. Both the Hurricanes and Devils need to win one of their remaining games in order to finish ahead of the Rangers in the standings. The Hurricanes play three times (home vs. Detroit, away vs. Ottawa and Florida) while the Devils have two games (home vs. Buffalo, away vs. Washington). So, home ice in Round One is still a possibility, but a slim one.
If the Rangers make it to the Second Round, they will face either Carolina, New Jersey or, if there is an upset in the first round, Florida, Pittsburgh, or the Islanders. Obviously, the Rangers would hold a home-ice advantage if one of the wild card teams gets to Round Two.
Eastern Conference Finals
Here’s where it gets interesting. If the Rangers can make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, it would leave the Boston Bruins as the only Eastern team currently ahead of them in total points. The Rangers are one point ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs who have three games left with an all-important match at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
If the Maple Leafs win their next two games (at Florida and Tampa) they will have 109 points. If the Rangers beat the Sabres on Monday night they will have 108 points.
That means in their final game of the season, the two teams will be playing for home-ice advantage if they are to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. Here are the scenarios:
- Toronto wins and they have a home-ice advantage
- Rangers win in regulation and they have a home-ice advantage
- The Rangers win in overtime and Toronto ends up with a home-ice advantage due to more regulation wins (42 to 39).
If the Rangers lose to Buffalo, Toronto has to lose to either Florida or Tampa to set up the same scenario. If Toronto wins both games, the game Thursday night will be meaningless except for Stanley Cup Final implications (see next).
Stanley Cup Final
There is a way for the Rangers to end up with a home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final. First, they are guaranteed home ice if they end up playing Minnesota, Los Angeles, Winnipeg, Seattle, Calgary, or Nashville. Here are the scenarios versus the other contenders:
- Vegas Golden Knights (107 points, 2 games left): If the Rangers win both games or go 1-0-1, they get home ice if Vegas loses one game in regulation. If the Rangers split in regulation, Vegas has to lose both of their remaining games and the Rangers own the tiebreaker so an overtime loss wouldn’t help the Knights. If the Rangers lose both games, Vegas has a home-ice advantage.
- Edmonton Oilers (105 points, 2 games left): If the Rangers win both games, they get home ice. If the Oilers win both of their games, the Blueshirts have to win both of their games. Edmonton owns the regulation win tiebreaker so if they end up tied in points, it does no good.
- Colorado Avalanche (104 points, 3 games left): If the Rangers sweep, they will own home ice even if the Avalanche win all of their three remaining games as New York would own the regulation wins the tiebreaker. If the Rangers win one of their last two games, the Avs would need to get five of six possible points. The Rangers drop both games and Colorado would still need to get three of six points.
- Dallas Stars (102 points, 3 games left): If Dallas wins all three games, they finish with 108 points and own the tiebreaker even if the Rangers split. One loss by Dallas and the Rangers would need one point out of their last four.
- Minnesota Wild (100 points, 3 games left): One point gained by the Rangers or lost by the Wild and the Blueshirts own home-ice advantage.
The Rangers face a Buffalo team on Monday night staving off elimination as their tragic number is only two. A loss to the Blueshirts or if Florida or the Islanders win one more game and will send the Sabres to the playoffs sidelines for the 12th straight season.
As mentioned above, in their season finale on Thursday, the Blueshirts face the Maple Leafs who have locked up second place in the Atlantic Division, so the two teams will be playing for home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The teams worth keeping an eye on are the Western Conference contenders. Colorado, Dallas, and Minnesota are fighting for the top three slots in the Central Division. It means that all of their remaining games will be hard-fought. The game of the week will be Tuesday night when the Oilers visit the Avalanche. That game could have real implications for the Rangers if they make it to the Final.
There will be much eye-rolling about a discussion of possible playoff opponents, and speculation, especially from fans who doubt the Rangers will get to the Stanley Cup Final. But if they do, it’s worth understanding that so-called “meaningless” games in fact could have huge implications as the playoffs wear on.
Sure, Boston looks like it is a juggernaut destined for a championship, but does anyone out there really believe that the New York Rangers have no chance of getting that far? And if they end up in the Stanley Cup Final, no matter how much Gerard Gallant downplays home-ice advantage, there is no doubt he would prefer to have the last change and a rabid Madison Square Garden behind his team in a Game Seven.
Does it really matter? Since the Rangers’ last appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 2014, there have been 35 series that have gone seven games. 20 of those series (57%) have been won by the team with a home-ice advantage. We’ll take those odds.
The mission is clear for the Broadway Blueshirts. Win both games and it’s possible that only three teams would be in the playoffs who would have home-ice advantage in a seven-game series. That starts tonight against the Sabres.