Rangers aware 1st-round sweep doesn’t guarantee anything in Stanley Cup Playoffs

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get one thing straight. The New York Rangers should be plenty happy they swept their first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals. Quickly disposing of a major underdog in convincing fashion simply reasserts the Rangers standing as one of the best teams in the NHL.

But the Rangers are surely aware that sweeping a first-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is no guarantee of future success or a parade in the Canyon of Heroes.

Winning in four straight does allow the Rangers to get much needed rest and recovery, which surely will be needed as the postseason grind gets more intense against better competition. It also affords time for a mental reset, which can be just as valuable as physical recovery.

A great example, of course, is the 1994 Rangers. They dominated the Islanders in a first-round sweep and then took a 3-0 series lead against the Capitals, before winning that second-round series in five games.

Playing one game over the minimum the first two rounds was invaluable when the Rangers were pushed to the limit by the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final and Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final, a pair of seven-game series that featured tons of physical play and exhausting overtimes.

Related: Steve Valiquette calls Tom Wilson ‘idiot’ during Rangers’ Game 4 broadcast

Rangers seeking to write own history after sweeping Capitals in 1st round of 2024 playoffs

new york rangers
Rangers Mark Messier (11) celebrates with the Stanley Cup after the Rangers defeated Vancouver 3-2 in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals at Madison Square Garden June 14, 1994.

That 1994 Rangers team is one of three Presidents’ Trophy winners to sweep its first-round series and go on to win the Stanley Cup. The Dallas Stars (1999) and Colorado Avalanche (2001) are the others.

In sweeping the Capitals this season, the Rangers became just the sixth Presidents’ Trophy winner to sweep a first-round series. The Edmonton Oilers (1986) and Avalanche (2021) also did so, but unlike the three other teams mentioned above, neither reached the Stanley Cup Final. After sweeping the Vancouver Canucks to open the 1986 playoffs, the Oilers lost an intense seven-game series to the Calgary Flames in the second round. The 2021 Avalanche also lost in the second round (to the Vegas Golden Knights in six games) after sweeping the St. Louis Blues in Round 1.

Joe Pantorno of AMNY Sports did a good job, listing the 19 teams to sweep a first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2003 and tracked how they fared moving forward. Only one of those teams, the Avalanche two seasons ago, won the Stanley Cup after sweeping their first-round series.

Six teams since 2003 advanced to the Stanley Cup Final after starting the playoffs with a sweep. The Golden Knights (2018), Nashville Predators (2017), Detroit Red Wings (2009), Pittsburgh Penguins (2008) and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (2003) each lost in the Cup Final after doing so.

Here’s the complete list of results for those 19 teams:

  • 2022: Avalanche sweep Predators, won Stanley Cup
  • 2021: Avalanche sweep Blues, lost to Golden Knights in 6
  • 2021: Jets Sweep Oilers, Swept by Canadiens
  • 2019: Blue Jackets sweep Lightning, Lost to Bruins in 6
  • 2019: Islanders sweep Penguins, Swept by Hurricanes
  • 2018: Golden Knights sweep Kings, lost Stanley Cup Final
  • 2018: Sharks sweep Ducks, lost to Golden Knights in 6
  • 2017: Predators sweep Blackhawks, lost Stanley Cup Final
  • 2017: Ducks sweep Flames, lost Western Conference Final
  • 2015: Ducks sweep Jets, lost Western Conference Final
  • 2014: Canadiens sweep Lightning, lost Eastern Conference Final
  • 2013: Sharks sweep Canucks, lost to Kings in 7
  • 2011: Red Wings sweep Coyotes, lost to Sharks in 7
  • 2009: Bruins sweep Canadiens, lost to Hurricanes in 7
  • 2009: Red Wings sweep Blue Jackets, lost Stanley Cup Final
  • 2008: Penguins sweep Senators, lost Stanley Cup Final
  • 2007: Rangers sweep Thrashers, lost to Sabres in 6
  • 2006: Devils sweep Rangers, lost to Hurricanes in 5
  • 2003: Mighty Ducks sweep Red Wings, lost Stanley Cup Final

The Rangers are included in that list once. They swept the Atlanta Thrashers to open the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs before Chris Drury and the Buffalo Sabres took them out in six games in Round 2.

Though, all of this is interesting, the bottom line is these Rangers will write their own story, one way or the other, this spring. History provides pause and any good hockey coach or player will tell you that once one series ends, it’s a completely new challenge in the next round.

So, too, will it be for the Rangers, who’ll take a step in class in the second round against the winner of the Carolina Hurricanes – New York Islanders series, that Carolina leads 3-1 heading into Game 5 at home Tuesday.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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