The New York Rangers have had a complicated recent history with the final game of the regular season.
At the conclusion of the 2021-22 regular season, the Rangers had Ryan Lindgren go down in a meaningless final game that caused him to miss the first three games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. New York fell behind in the series to Pittsburgh 3-1 before Lindgren returned, and the Rangers eventually won in seven games. Although they got to the Eastern Conference Finals, Lindgren’s injury could have been a key reason as to why that run could have ended early.
Would the Rangers be able to overcome a serious injury to one of their key players this time around? The answer is probably no.
In 2022, the Blueshirts took on the last remnants of the Pittsburgh Penguins dynasty. A year later and those same Penguins are missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Playing the New Jersey Devils or Carolina Hurricanes offers a far more distinctive challenge as opposed to the aging stars in Pittsburgh.
That’s the chief lesson the Rangers must learn as they gear up for their final regular season contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night. Both Toronto and New York are locked into their seeds and have no benefit to going all out and risking injury just a few days before the playoffs begin. Any injury sustained by either team could be extremely detrimental to their hopes of securing deep playoff runs.
There is also the very real fact that players like Lindgren and Patrick Kane are already dealing with injuries that have plagued them throughout the regular season. In New York’s 4-3 shootout loss to Buffalo on Monday, the top defenseman had to leave the game due to being hit with a puck. While he later returned to the contest and has been at the team’s practices, that event alone is a reminder of how detrimental an injury to a key player could be in a playoff series.
New Jersey plays fast enough that the Blueshirts need to have each of their lines healthy and prepared for a grueling series. Carolina’s physicality alone is enough to need all hands on deck as well. New York can not afford to have players injured going into a series where they won’t have the home ice advantage and against teams that offer different unique matchup problems.
To be ready for the postseason, the Rangers must learn the lesson from last season: staying healthy during game 82 is the most important goal ahead of Thursday night.
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