Analyzing New York Rangers playoff history based on regular-season finishes

NHL: Vancouver Canucks v New York Rangers
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The New York Rangers are on the verge of winning the Metropolitan Division title for the first time since 2014-15 when they went on to lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.

Interestingly, this could be their third division title this century, with the first one coming in 2011-12, when the Rangers, you guessed it, lost in the Eastern Conference Final to the New Jersey Devils.

After becoming the first team in the NHL to secure a playoff berth Tuesday, the 2023-24 season will mark the Rangers’ 63rd trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Out of those postseason appearances, New York has been a top-ranked team after winning its division on eight occasions.

They won their last Stanley Cup title when they were the No. 1 seed in 1994. As a three-time Presidents’ Trophy winner, the Rangers remain one of the few to finish first overall in the regular season and win the Stanley Cup in the same season.

However, being the top team in the NHL hasn’t always worked out in New York’s favor. Two of their Stanley Cup victories came as a second seed and one as a third seed. Additionally, the Blueshirts have only advanced twice to the Stanley Cup Final as a No. 1 seed, skating in the Final more often as a two, three or four seed.

Related: 3 major reasons Rangers are legitimate Stanley Cup favorites

Rangers playoff history based on regular-season finishes

With a 257-280-8 record in the postseason, here’s a look into the triumphs and setbacks of 62 seasons of Rangers playoff hockey.

Seventh seed (0-3-0)

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the NHL in March 2020, the Rangers were seventh in the Metropolitan Division with a 37-28-5 record and 78 points. They advanced to the Qualifying Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (held in Toronto) because they had more points than three teams: the New Jersey Devils (68 points), Buffalo Sabres (68 points) and Ottawa Senators (62 points).

In Henrik Lundqvist’s last playoff appearance and Igor Shesterkin’s first taste of playoff hockey, New York was swept 3-0 by the Carolina Hurricanes in a best-of-five series. Considering the unusual circumstances of the end of the regular season, this may be the only time in franchise history that the Rangers would enter the playoffs as a seventh seed.

Fourth seed (62-80-0)

New York qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs as a fourth seed for the first time in 1940-41, losing in three games to the Detroit Red Wings in the Quarter-Finals. During the Original Six era (1942-1967), the Rangers played in the Semi-Finals four times, advancing once to the Stanley Cup Final in 1950, losing in Game 7 to the Red Wings.

Since NHL Expansion, the Blueshirts have won nine playoff series as a fourth seed, reaching the Conference Final in 1986 (five-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens) and 1997 (five-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers), the only season Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky skated together on Broadway.

Their best record (48-28-6) as a fourth seed came in 2016-17, and their lowest win total to earn a playoff berth from this position was 21-19-8 back in 1940-41. Their playoff totals as a No. 4 seed are 62-80-0, which equals a .436 win percentage.

Third seed (60-70-5)

The Rangers have qualified for the postseason 19 times as a No. 3 seed, winning the Stanley Cup in 1933 in four games over the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1937, they lost in the Final to the Red Wings (five games) and then to the Canadiens (five games) in 1979. On six other occasions, New York was a final-four team, failing to reach the Cup Final in 1930, 1931, 1935, 1956, 1973, and 1974.

During their 10 other appearances as a three-seed, the Rangers have won three playoff series, skating in the second round in 2006-07 and 2007-08 and advancing to the Quarter-Finals in 1980 after winning in the preliminary round. Overall, their postseason record from this position is 60-70-5, a .459 win percentage.

New York’s best season (47-23-8) as a third seed came in 2022-23 when they lost in seven games in the first round to the Devils. Meanwhile, in 1929-30, they compiled a 17-17-10 record, their lowest win total as a third seed, and again lost in the Semi-Finals.

Related: 10 key trades that helped the Rangers win the 1994 Stanley Cup Final

Second seed (82-81-2)

On 16 occasions, the Rangers have been the No. 2 seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning two of their four championships from this position. Statistically, this has been New York’s most successful spot, as the Rangers have won two of their titles as a second seed and made the Stanley Cup Final five times for a 2-3 record in the Final.

The Rangers finished second in 1927-28, their second season in the NHL, capturing the Stanley Cup in a five-game series win over the Montreal Maroons. Following their second championship in 1933 (as a third seed), New York finished with the second-best record in 1939-40, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games for their second title victory.

As a No. 2 seed, the Rangers lost in the Stanley Cup Final in 1929 and 1972 to the Boston Bruins and then in 2014 to the Los Angeles Kings. Moreover, the Rangers were a final-four team as a second seed in 1939, 1958, 1971, and 2022. Overall, New York is 82-81-2 from this position, equaling a .496 win percentage, which includes 18 playoff series wins.

First seed (53-46-1)

New York is on pace in 2023-24 to be a top seed for only the ninth time in franchise history. As the first team to collect 100 points, they are also the frontrunners to claim the Presidents’ Trophy, which would be their fourth.

Although the Presidents’ Trophy has only been around since 1986, the Rangers have been the best team in the NHL on four occasions: 1942, 1992, 1994, and 2015, winning the Stanley Cup in 1994.

In their first season, 1926-27, New York had the best record in the American Division with a 25-13-6 record, the third-best total in the NHL behind the Ottawa Senators and Canadiens. They lost to the Bruins in the Semi-Finals by a series score of 1-0-1.

Five seasons later, the Rangers won the American Division again with a 23-17-8 record and eliminated the top team in the League, the Canadiens, in the Semi-Finals (3-1) before getting swept (3-0) in the Stanley Cup Final by the Maple Leafs.

In 1942, the Rangers had the best record in the NHL for the first time, finishing 29-17-2 for 60 points, three more than the Maple Leafs, who were 27-18-3. Unfortunately, the League’s top two teams met in the Semi-Finals, with Toronto advancing in a 4-2 series win.

Meanwhile, New York wouldn’t win another division title for 42 years, but they claimed the top spot in the Patrick Division in 1989-90 and finished with the fifth-best record in the Prince of Wales Conference behind the Bruins, Sabres, Canadiens, and Hartford Whalers. After a 36-31-5 regular season, the Rangers eliminated the New York Islanders in five games before falling to the Washington Capitals in five games in the Divisional Finals.

Once Messier came to town in 1991, the Rangers could not be stopped during the 1991-92 season. They won their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy thanks to the best record (50-25-5) and became the only team to collect over 100 points, finishing with 105. However, the regular-season successes didn’t translate into postseason success, with a seven-game series win over the Devils and a six-game series loss in the Divisional Finals to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

After 54 years, New York City finally toasted a Stanley Cup championship when the Blueshirts captured their second Presidents’ Trophy in three seasons (52-24-8) before going on one of the most memorable playoff runs ever. First, they swept the Islanders before knocking out the Capitals in five games. During an epic Eastern Conference Final, the Rangers escaped a Game 7 thriller against the Devils to advance to a Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks, which they also won in Game 7.

However, the Devils would eventually avenge their 1994 Eastern Conference Finals loss in 2012, and prevented the Atlantic Division champion Rangers (51-24-7) from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final with a six-game series win. Before the rematch, the Rangers fought to get past the Senators (4-3) and the Capitals (4-3) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Finally, the third and last time the Rangers captured the Presidents’ Trophy with the best record (53-22-7) in the NHL came in 2014-15, one season after losing in the Stanley Cup Final as the No. 2 seed. Despite their regular-season success, New York eliminated the Penguins in five games before getting taken to the limit (Game 7) by the Capitals. The Rangers then pushed the Lightning to a decisive seventh game until their season ended in a shutout loss at home.

As a No. 1seed, the Rangers have a combined 53-46-1 record, which equals a .530 win percentage. Outside of claiming one Stanley Cup title from this position, they have 11 playoff series wins.

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