Breaking Down the Rangers’ Home Stretch
The Rangers head into their final ten games tied for second in the Metropolitan Division with 88 points.
Looking at the Metro playoff picture, the Rangers and Penguins are knotted below Washington, who was the first team to clinch a playoff berth this year. Just three points behind the Rangers and Pens are the Islanders, who have 85 points and two games in hand. Philadelphia remains alive, with twelve games remaining and 80 points to their name.
The Rangers enter their last leg of the season with a matchup against the Panthers on home-ice tonight. Things do not get any easier on Wednesday, when the streaking Bruins come to town. Despite having an off year, a trip to Montreal follows, which is never an easy task. Moreover, on the second half of a back-to-back, the Rangers return home to face Pittsburgh. The Rangers get some relief with three should-win matchups beginning in Carolina, home against Buffalo, and ending in Columbus. In the final three games of the year, the Rangers face three potential playoff contenders. All at MSG, the Rangers welcome the Lightning, Islanders and Red Wings in a stretch of games over 5 nights.
The final ten games are no easy task for the Rangers, who are 4-4-2 in their last ten after ending a west coast trip gaining three of a possible six points. The Rangers will face six teams over .500 from here-on-out. As mentioned above, the three “should win” matchups come against teams which the Rangers have not lost to this year, going a combined 8-0 in those games. On the other side of the spectrum, the Blueshirts play the Islanders and Canadians and are winless, while being outscored 19-7, in the five times they faced those squads this season.
The NHL scheduling office did not make it easy for the Rangers to close out the year. Beginning on April 5th, the Rangers will play three home games in five days against formidable opponents, all of whom expect to be in the Cup race this post season. The Bolts, Isles and Wings have each given the Rangers tough games this year. With a record of 2-3-1, the Rangers are on the wrong side of a 15-18 score during those games.
Looking on the outside in, the Flyers are the closest team to pushing their way into a Metro wild-card spot. The team has twelve games remaining and has a relatively easier schedule (@NYI, @Columbus, @Colorado, @Arizona, Winnipeg, Washington, Ottawa, @Pittsburgh@, Detroit, Toronto, Pittsburgh, @NYI) compared to that of the Rangers.
As it stands now, the Penguins would play host to the Rangers with no changes between now and the end of the year. As cliché as it sounds, the Rangers’ playoff run starts now. With Philly just eight points behind and having two games in hand, there should be little sense of security that their playoff spot is cemented in place. Separately, the Islanders could easily step in front of the Rangers and/or Penguins, pushing one of the two into the last wild-card spot in the Metro. Whether or not this is necessarily a worse scenario is a topic for another day.
Just ten games separate the Rangers from another post-season berth. We have seen it before, getting hot at the right time can be the catalyst to make any team dangerous in the playoffs. With the Rangers tough schedule remaining, this is no easy task. How the Rangers finish out the regular season will likely paint a clear picture of whether or not the team has any hopes of playing in the final game the year.