Assessing potential 1st-round playoff matchups for New York Rangers

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Leading the Metropolitan Division with 16 games left to play in the regular season, the New York Rangers are on their way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive season. But just who they will play in the first-round remains unclear.

Among those in the wild-card race in the Eastern Conference are the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings, with the Washington Capitals close behind. The Philadelphia Flyers hold the third spot in the Metro, but could easily fall to a wild-card spot.

The Rangers and the Carolina Hurricanes appear to be locked into first and second place in the division, though the order of finish is still up for grabs with the Rangers in first holding a four-point lead. If they win their first-round series, the Rangers and Hurricanes would be lined up to play in the second round of the playoffs. Based on the Rangers’ terrific 1-0 win in Carolina on Tuesday, that could be an epic series.

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Potential 1st-round playoff matchup for New York Rangers

NHL: Stadium Series-New York Rangers at New York Islanders
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Rangers (M1) vs Lightning (WC1)

With the top three spots in the Atlantic Division nearly set, one of the most likely options for the first round is a Rangers vs Lightning clash, should New York not catch the Florida Panthers for most points in the East and Tampa Bay not drop to the second wild card.

The Rangers and Lightning have met twice in the playoffs. Most recently, the Rangers lost in six games in the Eastern Conference Final in the 2021-22 season. They are 0-2 all-time against the Lightning.

This season, the Rangers were 2-1-0 against the Lightning. They won 5-1 on Dec. 30, and 3-1 on Feb. 7. However, just Thursday night, New York surrendered a pair of two-goal leads and lost to the Lightning 6-3.

This is a playoff series that could easily go seven games. There is skill all over the ice for both teams and elite talent at every position. While this is the most likely playoff matchup, it may be the one the Rangers want the least. They may not be as dominant as their back-to-back championship seasons, but the Lightning are still very dangerous and can throw a scare into any opponent with Cup champions Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy leading the way.

Rangers (M1) vs Islanders (WC1)

Despite losing two straight, the Islanders are in the hunt for a playoff berth, currently holding the second wild card in the East. The Rangers and Islanders have only played one of their scheduled four meetings this season It was quite the contest when the Rangers rallied for a 6-5 overtime win at the outdoor Stadium Series on Feb. 18.

The three remaining regular-season games should be intriguing and intense battles. And if that leads into a best-of-7 clash in the first round, that’d make for great theater.

The Rangers and Islanders last met in the playoffs in the 1993-94 season when the Blueshirts swept a first-round series en-route to winning their most recent Stanley Cup championship. They have a 3-5 record in eight playoff series all-time against the Islanders.

Watching close friends Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin battle at opposite ends of the ice over a best-of-7 would be a fun sublot. Artemi Panarin’s skill would match up against Mat Barzal. Adam Fox and Noah Dobson would battle it out on defense. If it is anything like the Stadium Series, this possible round one matchup will be a close one.

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Rangers (M2) vs Flyers (M3)

If the Rangers fall to the second seed in the Metropolitan Division, they could run into the third-place Flyers. New York has won both games against the Flyers this season. On Nov. 24, they came away with a 3-1 win. On Feb. 24, they were victorious again, winning 2-1. With two meetings still on the schedule, we will get a good glimpse as to what this playoff matchup could look like.

The Rangers and Flyers last met a decade ago in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. New York took the series in seven games on their memorable run to the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers are 5-6 against the Flyers in 11 playoff series all-time.

The games between these rivals have been high-spirited and physical this season. Expect a playoff series to be more of the same with added intensity. New York has played well defensively against the Flyers this season, giving up only one goal in each game. This will be a key component to winning the first round, should these teams meet, because the Rangers should have a distinct advantage in goal with Shesterkin against Samuel Ersson.

Rangers (M1) vs Red Wings (WC1)

The Red Wings are riding a seven-game losing streak, but still in position to make a run at a wild-card spot. The Rangers got the best of their Original Six counterparts in two games this season. On Nov. 7, they earned a 5-3 victory. Later that month, Nov. 29, they won 3-2.

These storied franchises have not met often in the playoffs. New York is 1-4 in five series all-time, and the teams have not met in the postseason since the 1949-50 season. It will be interesting to see how former Rangers forward Patrick Kane performs in these playoffs, if Detroit can earn a berth.

Though Detroit has struggled as of late, they are a team with speed and skill. Players like Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Larkin would be a handful for the Blueshirts.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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