Home ice is a significant advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs – last year’s New York Rangers team should be an example of that.
Sure they won a key Game 7 in Carolina, but having the advantage in the previous round against Pittsburgh was a big reason why New York even got as far as they did last season. The 2022-23 season has been quite different for the Blueshirts though.
The Rangers fell to their rivals in New Jersey Thursday night by a 2-1 margin – effectively ending a golden opportunity to have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Their slow start on the road was too much to overcome as the Devils stand at just a point behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the top seed in the Metro division. While New Jersey certainly has an opportunity to overtake the Hurricanes for the division lead, Carolina has a game in hand and is considered the favorite with under 10 games to play in the regular season.
That leaves the Devils and Rangers on a collision course for a first-round playoff matchup.
And while New York squandered an opportunity to take second place in the Metro division, losing the home-ice advantage over their rival Devils in a potential playoff series shouldn’t raise the panic button just yet on the team’s season.
For starters, the last four times both teams faced off in the playoffs, the higher-seeded team is just 2-2 in the series. The lower-seeded Devils upset the Rangers in 2012, while the Rangers knocked off the Devils in 2008 and 1997 when they were the road team heading in. There’s hardly an overwhelming edge when both teams have loyal fanbases that are separated by just 12 miles.
Thursday night’s loss also takes away from how the Rangers have looked in the month of March as the regular season draws to a close. Their loss to Jersey was just the second regulation loss the team has suffered in multiple weeks. New York has now won seven of their last nine contests – hardly a precursor to a team playing poorly.
“After the first period, I thought we played really well…Igor didn’t have to be outstanding. It’s not like they dominated us. After the first, I thought the game was pretty even and I thought we played well.” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said after Thursday’s loss.
No matter how New York looks at Thursday’s loss, there’s no denying the Devils have ways to make the Rangers struggle in a series. Their speed and offensive firepower are enough to make any top team nervous.
But the Rangers have something the Devils don’t – experience. The additions of Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane, coupled with a playoff-experienced group from last season should be able to tilt the tide of a potential series in their favor. Having an edge in goaltending – even if it didn’t show Thursday – is also a major advantage as well.
Thursday’s loss was detrimental in the sense MSG won’t be the site should a Devils-Rangers series goes seven games – but that doesn’t mean it’s panic time just yet for New York.