No matter what happens on Thursday night to conclude the 2022-23 regular season, the New York Rangers will begin next week’s start to the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road as the Metro division’s third seed.
That’s what happened when both the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes won their contests Tuesday night. With that being said, the only thing that hasn’t been decided is where the Rangers are going once the playoffs actually begin. New Jersey trails Carolina by a single point for the Metro’s top seed. Both conclude their season on Thursday, and both are looking to try and avoid the rival Blueshirts as much as possible.
But in New York’s case, Thursday night will be a chance to root for the best possible outcome for them when it comes to a potential playoff opponent. Both the Devils and Canes have reasons that make them extremely dangerous come playoff time, but is there a matchup New York could exploit?
Today we break down both teams and see which potential foe would pose a better matchup for the contending Rangers.
The case for the Hurricanes
New York won the season series against the team they eliminated in last year’s playoff run in impressive fashion. The Rangers won both games in Raleigh – one of the hardest places to win on the road as well. Carolina is a team whose style of play is made for the postseason. They rely on a complete roster of scorers while their options in goal could change on a dime. Like the Bruins, the Hurricanes are going to be in every playoff run as long as they have their core because they are incredibly consistent with how they operate as a unit.
That system though is susceptible though. Last season saw a changing of the guard of sorts when the Colorado Avalanche overwhelmed their opponents with speed and offensive firepower. One could argue the new-look Rangers could be a similar team come postseason time with the combination of speed and power that they possess.
If there’s a weakness to the Hurricanes it’s in their overall style. If they suffer an early deficit, their style of play can’t keep up with other teams. They’ve also only scored the 19th most points in hockey this season. The ultimate question will be if a team like the Rangers could get the jump on them throughout a seven-game series.
The case for the Devils
Inexperience is always a misconstrued word when it comes to the playoffs. Any time a team is favored to win because of their experience usually means that they are on the precipice of losing.
Jack Hughes has put through a breakout career season and Vitek Vanecek has been good enough to help the high-powered Devils along as they head to the playoffs for the first time in six years. They own the fourth-best offense in the game, the fifth-best penalty-kill unit, and the seventh-best goals-against-total. In short, while Hughes might be the best player on the ice in any series, the team is as complete as they come across the NHL. Add in the fact that the Devils beat the Rangers three times this season, and New Jersey poses a difficult matchup to predict.
So where is New York’s advantage if the team lost to these same Devils just a few weeks ago? The answer remains with the Kids.
Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko made themselves famous during last year’s playoff run and are in line to do the same thing next week. As third lines go, they are arguably the most dangerous trio in all of hockey. The more they play, the more dangerous they become. Neutralizing Hughes will be a challenge but New York carries the third-best defense across the NHL into a series. Finally fully healthy, the team should trust that Ryan Lindgren and Jacob Trouba can do the job necessary to limit chances and let their speed match up to New Jersey’s.
The Verdict: Jack Hughes poses concerns, but Devils make for best case situation
New York’s powerplay unit could very well decide whatever series they end up playing, but if they are looking to advance to the second round, New Jersey is probably the best of a tough decision. Playing the dull game that Carolina is accustomed to leaves the Blueshirts susceptible to key losses both on the road and at home.
But the Devils play a very similar way to their rival Rangers, and in that, the belief is that New York should be able to succeed if they simply play their game better. In any matchup, they should have the goaltending edge with Igor Shesterkin pulling off another solid season with a career-high in wins.
So long as Shesterkin is on his game, and the powerplay unit is successful, the Blueshirts should want their cross-river rivals first among their playoff opponents.