Here’s what’s next for Rangers after reaching Eastern Conference Final

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
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For the second time in three seasons, and fifth since 2012, the New York Rangers will play in the Eastern Conference Final. Four more wins and the Blueshirts will reach the Stanley Cup Final for only the second time in 30 years as they try to win their first championship since 1994.

It’s some heady stuff for the Rangers, who established franchise records for wins (55) and points (114) during the 2023-24 regular season, winning their fourth Presidents’ Trophy along the way.

An improbable and scintillating third-period comeback that eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round in Raleigh on Thursday night highlights a postseason run, so far, where the Rangers are 8-2 and already had a seven-game winning streak.

Chris Kreider’s epic performance in that 5-3 Game 6 win, a natural hat trick that included the tying and winning goals, is among the greatest postseason moments in Rangers history.

But there are still two playoff series, eight wins, separating the Rangers from their ultimate goal. So, let’s examine what’s next for the Rangers now that they’ve reached the 2024 Eastern Conference Final and will play the Florida Panthers.

Related: Complete schedule, dates, times, TV information for Eastern Conference Final

3. Overcome demons from past Eastern Conference Finals

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning
Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The bulk of the current Rangers roster took part in the 2022 Eastern Conference Final when they had a 2-0 series lead and 2-0 lead in Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning before running out of gas against a two-time Stanley Cup winner that had enough muscle memory to escape with the series win in six games.

That’s both a scar and a learning lesson for the likes of Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Alexis Lafreniere, Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba and Co. Coach Peter Laviolette doesn’t like to dwell on the past at all, but that conference final loss two years ago is a fresh enough memory for many players on this roster and should serve them well this time around.

Kreider has been with the Rangers for their four previous appearances in the Eastern Conference Final. Like 2022, the Rangers ran out of gas in 2012, John Tortorella’s Black and Blueshirts grinding until the very end. In 2015, like now, the Rangers were Presidents’ Trophy winners. But they had numerous key injuries that derailed them, ultimately shut out at home by the Lightning in Game 7.

The anomaly was 2014. On a great run the second half of the season under Alain Vigneault, the Rangers finished off the Montreal Canadiens in six games to reach the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in five (three times in overtime) to the Los Angeles Kings.

These important lessons will play a big part for the Rangers as they get ready for the next step in this postseason journey.

2. Filip Chytil, Blake Wheeler could give Peter Laviolette more options on deep Rangers roster

NHL: New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators
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The Rangers have made it through 10 postseason games and two rounds without any significant injuries. It’s been speculated that Fox might be dealing with something, especially with his offensive production flagging. But not a single regular in the lineup has missed a playoff game.

Now, the Rangers get five days off between games before the conference final begins. So, everyone gets a chance to heal bumps and bruises and reset mentally.

These days are also invaluable to Filip Chytil and Blake Wheeler. Each forward has been working his way back from injury and, in fact, Chytil and Wheeler are no longer on the injured list. That leads to the possibility one or both could become options for Laviolette as he constructs the Rangers lineup for each game.

Chytil missed six months with an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. He returned in Game 3 against the Hurricanes and played 12 minutes in the overtime win. However, he missed the next game due to an illness and hasn’t played since, though he’s been practicing.

Wheeler has been out three months since sustaining a lower-body injury. The 37-year-old recently returned as a full participant in practice. It appears he’s real close to being an option, though Laviolette has stressed Wheeler won’t be rushed back.

This doesn’t mean lineup changes are imminent for the Rangers. But if Chytil and/or Wheeler is healthy enough to play, it does give him options. And if a forward is injured at some point, the Rangers are deeper to fill any void.

Depth is an invaluable asset this time of year.

1. Rangers prepare to face Panthers in Eastern Conference Final

NHL: Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers defeated the Boston Bruins 2-1 in Game 6 of their second-round series on Friday and will face the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final.

The Rangers would’ve been happy to watch the Bruins and Panthers play the full seven games, especially considering the physical nature of the series. But now they can set their sights on their next opponent and begin preparing in earnest.

During the regular season, the Rangers were 1-2-0 against the Panthers, losing once each at home and on the road before a 4-3 shootout win at Madison Square Garden on March 23.

The Rangers have home-ice advantage in this series against the Atlantic Division champions, who were the Stanley Cup runners-up last season when they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.

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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