The hardest playoff format in sports to predict is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The New York Rangers are all too familiar with that.
Top teams that dominate the regular season sometimes don’t even get out of the first round, while mediocre teams end up catching fire and end up going on deep playoff runs. It’s the gamble that every team entering the playoffs in three weeks will have to come to terms with. How a team plays is extremely important to winning, but maybe most important is the matchup discrepancy between two teams trying to move on in a seven-game series. While we’re still three weeks away from the start of the postseason, the Rangers have already clinched a spot in the playoffs. Their 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 means they are dominating at the perfect time.
But who should the Rangers look forward to facing the most once the playoffs begin? Today we rank each matchup from least favorable, to ones that the Blueshirts should be very happy to see.
7. Boston Bruins
Let’s be fair, as torturous as the President’s Trophy curse has been to the league’s best, the Bruins certainly look like the team that could end the decade-long drought.
Boston has the goaltending, offensive firepower, and physicality that would make a matchup really difficult for the Rangers. New York likes to play fast, but the Bruins are arguably faster. If it’s between the Rangers and Bruins in the Conference Finals, it’s not a very good matchup for the Blueshirts.
6. New York Islanders
People may be surprised to see the Islanders as a team the Rangers wouldn’t want to face, but simple math shows otherwise. The Islanders have a top goaltender in Ilya Sorokin and a dominant defense. Their physical style of play makes life hell for any opponent.
The Rangers have known that all too well recently. New York is 3-9 in their last 12 games against the rival Islanders. It doesn’t help their reigning Vezina-winning goaltender is 2-7-1 against the Isles as well.
The math just doesn’t add up here.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have been a model of consistency in the Eastern Conference for the last three seasons. That being said, this year’s version of the Rangers should have a better matchup against them as opposed to last year’s Conference Finals series.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is obviously the one wild card here. New York has the offense and defense to keep pace but if Vasilevskiy is on his game, this is still a dangerous team.
4. Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina and New York are arguably the likeliest matchups in round two should both teams win their first-round series. If that happens, the Rangers should take solace in the fact that they have had a history of winning in Carolina and already took three of four in the regular season.
The Hurricanes play a game that makes them dangerous in the playoffs, but the Blueshirts have the penchant and history of matching up very well against the top of the Metro division.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Does anyone trust the Toronto Maple Leafs? Their offense has always been loaded but their defense and goaltending have been suspect for years now. Toronto may be having one of their best overall seasons, but a matchup against a quick and physical team like New York wouldn’t be one they want to see at all.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are on their last legs as a contending team. Crosby and Malkin have already shown this season that while they are still great players, they don’t have the overall team to get them over the hump in a loaded conference.
This is a matchup the Rangers probably won’t see, but if they were to be in the Conference Finals, a trip to the Stanley Cup Final is extremely probable.
1. New Jersey Devils
Surprised that the most likely matchup in round one for New York is also their most favorable matchup? New Jersey may have the season series right now but their wins came when the Rangers weren’t playing their overall best.
The trade acquisitions of Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane should shift the balance of power in that series. New York’s goaltending also has an edge. This is a good overall matchup for the Rangers.
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