New York Rangers: Who will it be in the first round?

Three weeks ago, it was a forgone conclusion that the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins would be facing each other in the first round of the playoffs next month. The only question was, who would hold home ice? Fast forward three weeks, and the Carolina Hurricanes, leaders of the Metropolitan Division for seemingly the entire season, have hit some turbulence. The Canes’ have dropped 9 of their last 14, and the Rangers are now within 2 points of being tied for first place in the Metro. With two games remaining at Madison Square Garden against the Hurricanes, the division that many thought was signed, sealed, and delivered to Raleigh, is back on the open market. If the Rangers do end up leapfrogging the Canes’ during the last three weeks of the season, their opponent in the first round would either be the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions Tampa Bay Lightning or the veteran-laden Boston Bruins.

Let’s get one thing clear; this team should continue on the path they’re currently on and build momentum toward the playoffs. Herm Edwards once said, “You play to win the game.” I’ve seen too many football teams rest players for multiple weeks before postseason play only to be upset in the divisional round. It’s hard to turn it on and off, especially with a young team that lacks playoff experience.

Each potential opponent has its strengths and weaknesses. The Lightning have the best goalie in the world. Until Igor does it in the playoffs, Vasilevskiy is the undisputed champion of the blue crease. In addition, they have a lethal offense and deep defense with names Ranger fans are all too familiar with. This core group in Tampa has been going after Cups for the better part of a decade, which could also be one of their pitfalls this year. They’ve constantly made deep runs which add up to 66 extra playoff games in the last four years. Have all these additional games, losing an entire third line last year due to salary cap restrictions, and the Expansion Draft finally caught up to the Champs? Like Carolina, Tampa has struggled of late, losing six of their last ten contests. I personally wouldn’t bet against Tampa, but as Maximus says to Commodus in Gladiator, “the time for honoring yourself will soon be to an end.” All champions eventually relinquish their title and become previous champions; is this the year the kings of the NHL are knocked off the throne?

This season, the Rangers have had the Penguins’ number after taking 3 of 4 games from them. The one loss was a 1-0 game in which Tristan Jarry stood on his head and stole the game, but how many times can he do that during a best of seven series? Don’t let the regular season record fool you, and they still have Crosby (by the way, Crosby didn’t play in the game on ESPN Thursday night, in case you missed the 378 times they mentioned it), Malkin, and Letang. With the addition of Rickard Rakell to balance out their top 6, the Penguins are still a dangerous team with the core pedigree of 3 Stanley Cups and one of the best head coaches in the league.

The Bruins have the best 1st D pairs in the league, with newly acquired Hampus Lindholm playing opposite Adam Fox’s old friend, Charlie McAvoy. The first line in Boston has long been considered the best in the league, but the emergence of Erik Haula and Jake DeBrusk has given the Bruins depth that every team needs to make a run. Don’t forget Jeremy Swayman’s 31 save performance on February 15th when he went toe-to-toe with Igor in a 9-round shootout loss.

After sweeping the Lightning this season, New York is currently 8-1 against these teams, with one more game against Boston in two weeks. With Pittsburgh and the Rangers having a good old-fashioned staring contest Thursday night, and Artemi Panarin throwing his glove at Brad Marchand back in November, this first round could be extremely entertaining. Whichever way you shake it, the Eastern Conference Playoffs will be an absolute bloodbath this year. Seven of the eight teams qualifying for the playoffs should eclipse the century mark in points, and it’s conceivable for each of them to make a deep run into June. In the past, every Stanley Cup Champion has beaten good teams on their way to immortality, and there is no way around it. If the Rangers are going far, they will have to beat good teams. Regular-season records should be thrown out despite their success once the playoffs begin.

So, who do you want; Pittsburgh, Tampa, or Boston? I’ll post a poll on my Twitter account @elbigcalzonelp, and let me know who you want in the first round.

It's Not Worth Winning if You Can't Win-berg Ranting Rangers: A New York Rangers Podcast

In this playoff episode we recap the Rangers overtime win in Game 3 of the ECF.How to support us and our sponsors:Columbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITRThanks for listening! Please rate and review our show on your favorite listening platform. Check out our partner's website at www.insidetherink.com for all your latest hockey news.
  1. It's Not Worth Winning if You Can't Win-berg
  2. ECF Game 1 Recap : Flukes & Lacking Production
  3. Guest Colin Stephenson : ECF Preview
  4. Cry-der
  5. 7-1 Stay Cuylle, We're Fine

Luca Perito

Born and raised in New York. I've lived in Arizona, Maryland, Delaware, and California. Love all sports. Twitter @elbigcalzonelp -- Instagram @thebigcalzone

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