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Breaking Down Potential First Round Matchups for the New York Rangers

With just three games left in the season, the potential first-round matchups for the New York Rangers seem endless. The wild card race in the Eastern Conference has not been this close in a long time. Usually, the Rangers are the ones finding themselves in a tight race like this one. Not this year; as we stand, New York is comfortable, having clinched home-ice advantage for the first round, and potentially more.

The Rangers have yet to clinch the Metropolitan Division title after falling 4-2 to the New York Islanders on Tuesday. New York is one win away from clinching their first division title since doing so back in 2014-15. One trend that has become evident in recent history is New York having success with coaches during their first year in The Big Apple. Alain Vigneault took the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2014. Gerard Gallant‘s first year resulted in a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. What does New York have in store for Peter Laviolette‘s first season? To parrot a phrase that I have been implementing all season long: only time will tell.

New York Rangers Potential First-Round Playoff Matchups

With the race for the two Eastern Conference Wild Card spots being as chaotic as ever, here is a breakdown of potential first-round matchups for the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Potential First-Round Matchup: Tampa Bay Lightning

Well, well, well, an old foe has found themselves in the race once again. New York is very familiar with matching up against Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The last time these two franchises met, it was Tampa Bay getting the last laugh, defeating the Rangers in six games in the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals. You have to play what is given to you, yet this would be the matchup the Rangers should avoid at all costs.

If the Rangers can clinch the division and the top spot in the Eastern Conference, a matchup with Tampa Bay would be highly unlikely. Therefore, New York can match up with Tampa if they bottle their three remaining games. Currently, Tampa Bay would be headed to Boston for a first-round matchup with the Boston Bruins.

To control the Lightning, you HAVE TO stay out of the penalty box (yes, I’m talking to you Foxy). New York cannot afford to have their penalty killers take penalties themselves. Players like Adam Fox, Barclay Goodrow, and Vincent Trocheck need to control the breakout against a loaded offence like Tampa Bay. A player like Nikita Kucherov could single-handedly win a game for the Lightning after his career year. With that being said, this potential first-round matchup would go six games minimum.

Potential First-Round Matchup: Washington Capitals

Talk about old foes, here just might be the most familiar of all. Next, one of the hottest teams in the league could be visiting New York in a few weeks. At one point in the season, there was no team hotter than the Washington Capitals.

In their first year under the regime of Spencer Carbery, Alex Ovechkin and the Caps have found themselves in a position destined for the playoffs. The beginning of the year was far from pretty, but patience has turned them around.

This is a matchup where I would favour New York, but Washington’s momentum as of late has been unreal. A matchup with the Capitals could come down to depth, and the line of Alexander Wennberg, Will Cuylle, and Kaapo Kakko could shine in the nation’s capital.

Could we see a battle between the Brothers Lindgren in Round One?

Potential First-Round Matchup: Detroit Red Wings

Now, this is the matchup with boom or bust potential for the Rangers. This series could either be a comfortable win in five or getting knocked out in seven. The Red Wings are a fun team to watch. Let’s face it, the NHL is better when the Red Wings are good.

In their last fixture against one another, New York outlasted Detroit 4-3 back on April 5. That was a preview of what these playoff tilts could be: one-goal thrillers. Also, it would be quite the storyline having Patrick Kane face off against his former home.

Potential First-Round Matchup: New York Islanders

Boy, oh boy could this one get bloody. Apart from the injury-plagued Devils, the fiercest rival for the Rangers is their “little brother” on Long Island. However, the little brother conquered their older sibling on Tuesday. After witnessing the masterpiece of the Stadium Series, who wouldn’t want the Rangers versus the Islanders in Round One?

This would come down to which dominant Russian netminder saves their team’s bacon the most. A battle between Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin would feed generations. Apart from goaltenders, the Rangers match up nicely against the Islanders. However, a player like Matt Rempe could get a ton of ice time in a series against the Islanders. The physicality between these two teams would be off the charts.

Potential First-Round Matchup: Pittsburgh or Philadelphia

If we are making predictions, the teams that are the least likely to play the Rangers are the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. The two teams in the Keystone State have a long way to the top if they want to rock and roll.

Mike Sullivan‘s time in the Steel City could be coming to an end if Pittsburgh fails to make the postseason in consecutive seasons. The only hope keeping them in the hunt is that they are winners of four out of their last five games. Still having to play Detroit, Boston, Nashville, and the Islanders is why they could be on the outside looking in at the season’s conclusion.

On the other hand, hockey in Philadelphia is abysmal right now. The Flyers have dropped their last eight fixtures, losing 9-3 at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. It would be miraculous if John Tortorella could lead this unmotivated squad to the postseason. If he does, it would likely lead to an eventual matchup with the Blueshirts who dominate the series in five games or less.

Speaking of Philadelphia, New York is back in action on Thursday as they take on the Philadelphia Flyers. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST on Thursday from The World’s Most Famous Arena.

Main Photo Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports


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