Islanders – Rangers, Collision Course for Playoffs

It’s been a very long time since there has been a New York Islanders – New York Rangers playoff series. The last time it happened was the spring of 1994, when the Blue Shirts won the Stanley Cup. To put that into perspective that was half-way through Bill Clinton’s first Presidential term. This is the only playoff series the cross-town rivals have had in the last twenty five years.

Any Rangers or Islanders fan will tell you how intense a regular season game is between the clubs. In fact, when the New York teams meet in the regular season any hockey observer will tell you that it’s a playoff style game, intensity and atmosphere. I am here to tell you that the Islanders and Rangers are on a collision course for a playoff series in round one this year.

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The Capitals

The main reason why there will be a round one match-up in the playoffs between the Isles and Rangers is because of the Washington Capitals. So far this season the two best teams in hockey have been the Dallas Stars in the West and the Capitals in the East. It is no surprise that Washington has been the best team in the Eastern Conference. Many prognosticators predicted the Capitals would represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Washington is a very talented, deep, balanced, well coached team. Taking into account the Capitals have a twelve point lead (as well as two games in hand) on the second place Rangers, it’s hard to see the Caps not winning the Metropolitan division. A division title this year for the Capitals means that based on the current standings the Isles and Rangers would meet up in round one of the NHL playoffs. Remember the second place team in each division plays the third place team in the first round of the playoffs.

Rest of the Metropolitan

When looking at the rest of the Metropolitan Division I am underwhelmed. The Devils are slightly above .500 but are over-achieving and it’s hard to see them improving on their current record. The Penguins have issues all over the place. They are thin on their blue line, they have issues scoring and they are cap-strapped so it will be very hard for them to make a trade. The Flyers are not strong enough defensively and lack secondary scoring. The Hurricanes are playing well above their heads but they are still under .500. I also expect Carolina to take a big picture approach to their team and trade pending unrestricted free agent Eric Staal by the deadline. Finally, the Blue Jackets are already looking towards next season. Their big decision is if they should trade Ryan Johansen before the February 29th trade deadline.

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Finishing Second

Unless the Islanders and or Rangers underachieve at a high level, it’s hard not to see these two teams not finishing in second and third place in the Metro. The order is up for grabs as the Blue Shirts currently hold a one point lead over the Islanders. But keep in mind the team that plays their home games in Brooklyn have a game in hand. Which team finishes in second place could be crucial. Obviously, the team that finishes second will have home ice advantage. A Rangers – Islanders first round match-up would be highly contested and a very long series. Easily that series could go the distance and wind up being a seven game series.

Being the home team for a Game 7 is a big advantage for a team. The Islanders already know how important it is to have that Game 7 at home. The Isles learned that the hard way as they lost to the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs last year in a Game 7 on the road. Had the Islanders finished the regular season last year with just one more point they would have been the home team for Game 7 versus the Caps. Keep in mind the Rangers have a wealth of Game 7 experience and success. Over the last four years the Rangers are 6-1 in Game 7s. Of those Game 7 contests the team from Manhattan is 4-1 at Madison Square Garden. However, the Tampa Bay Lightning showed that the Rangers are mortal in Game 7s as they beat them 2-0 last spring at the Garden in the final and deciding game.  So which team finishes in second place in the Metropolitan could be the deciding factor of who advances to the second round of the NHL playoffs for these bitter rivals. One thing is for sure a Rangers – Islanders playoff series is much overdue and would be electrifying.

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