The 4 Potential First Round Playoff Matchups for The Rangers

After becoming the first of 16 teams to book their spot in the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs, the red-hot Rangers could be drawn against a few Eastern Conference foes in the 1st round

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers
Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers / Rich Graessle/GettyImages

With just 9 regular season games remaining for the New York Rangers before they start another quest for their first Stanley Cup championship since the legendary 1994 victory, some of their potential 1st round opponents may soon be determined based on the current league standings and the projected finishing standings. The Blueshirts sit 3 points clear of the top of the Metropolitan Division over the likes of Carolina, Philadelphia, and Washington, making up the rest of the top 4. So, who might they face in the opening best-of-7 series?

Detroit Red Wings

If Detroit is able to miraculously snag a playoff spot, it'd most likely be a wild card berth in addition to a potentially quick exit by the Rangers, who've handled the Wings in 2 of the 3 games between the teams this season; a 5-3 home win on November 7 and another home win on November 29 by a score of 3-2. Detroit sits at 5th in the Atlantic, 8 points out of a general playoff berth, seeing as how the top 4 teams in each of the NHL's 8 divisions make the postseason in the smoothest possible way. With 9 games left in the regular season much like the Rangers themselves, 2 points for wins is the most crucial thing Detroit needs to earn a playoff berth.

Philadelphia Flyers

Despite the 20-point difference between these two regional rivals, the Rangers and Flyers could be set for another big-time clash in games at the Garden and the Wells Fargo Center, both hefty playoff atmospheres in their own right. After all, it's New York's defeat of Philadelphia this past Tuesday that got them into the playoffs to begin with. The fact that it was also a back-and-forth and eventual 6-5 overtime win really makes a solid argument for the Rangers. However, they may have an easier time dispatching Philly since Tuesday's comeback win officially gave them the season series sweep. Philadelphia may have had a sluggish start to 2023/24, but legendary head coach John Tortorella has turned the Flyers into a dark horse heading to the regular season's conclusion. They are one team that's defied expectations all year, and a series with these two clubs could maybe even go the distance.


Washington Capitals

At 4th in the Metro, the Caps may seem a less likely 1st round opponent than others, unless the season were to conclude after the Rangers' 3-2 shootout win in Colorado last night. At 36-27-9 with 81 points, Washington is actually teetering on missing the playoffs entirely like they did last season, where they placed 6th and were 13 points out. But thanks to some slight improvements this season, Washington is on the brink of at least a potential wild card berth if they can finish strong without letting the Islanders one-up them. Of course, if these two teams were to meet in the postseason, it could be rather exciting, given the season series this year has been split with 2 games apiece. Also, the last postseason meeting ended in a dramatic Game 7 overtime victory with Derek Stepan boosting the Blueshirts to that year's conference finals.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Always fierce contenders for the Stanley Cup, given their recent repeat championships in 2020 and 2021, Tampa Bay and New York have squared off before in the playoffs. The last meeting was in the 2022 Eastern Conference finals, with the Rangers eventually losing in six games. In just the last 10 years, the Bolts have proven a formidable obstacle for any team working their way to the Cup finals through the East. This season, Tampa Bay is looking a bit out of place, but it is solidly holding the top wild-card spot in the Atlantic Division, where they are 4th behind the likes of Toronto, Florida, and Boston. Obviously, a matchup between these two sides would still be quite the watch regardless of the standings difference this year. The Rangers hold a 2-1 advantage in the season series, with both wins coming in convincing fashion on Dec. 30, a 5-1 win in Tampa and a 3-1 home win on Feb. 7. Tampa Bay took the final matchup of the season with a 6-3 home win of their own.

Whatever the first-round matchup will be, the Rangers still have good odds to win it all this year. They are the fifth most likely team to snag hockey's ultimate prize, after Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Edmonton, and a tie with Dallas. Given their larger win percentage as of now over the Stars, they might as well get the tiebreaking advantage.