New York Rangers Potential Playoff Matchups

Updated with new calculations following the Rangers’ 8-4 win over the Sabres.

With just four games to go in the Rangers’ season, the team is battling hard for a playoff spot.  So far, they’re hanging in there. According to, the Blueshirts currently have an 92.4% chance of making the playoffs.  That number increased by 8.9% after the Rangers’ back-to-back victories over the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres.

Who will the Rangers face in the first round?

While they still haven’t clinched a spot, here’s who the Rangers will likely face in the first round of the playoffs.  All percentages courtesy of the math and modeling wizardry of Ken over at Sports Club Stats:

Pittsburgh Penguins – 35.2% Chance of Meeting

Pittsburgh Penguins  (Andy Martin Jr.)
Pittsburgh Penguins (Andy Martin Jr.)

2013 Season Series:

  • Record vs. Pittsburgh: 1-3-1  (.300)
  • Goals For:  10
  • Goals Against:  13
  • Power Play: 25.0% (4/16)
  • Penalty Kill: 77.8% (14/18)
  • Rangers’ Leading Goal Scorers:  Rick Nash & Ryane Clowe (2).   Yes, that’s right. Two goals from each paced a club that’s only managed to score ten goals in five games against the Pens, getting shut out twice.

The Rangers struggled mightily against the Pens early in the season. They followed up a disappointing 6-3 loss in the home opener with two straight 3-0 shutout losses to Pittsburgh.  The Rangers’ only points in the season matchup came in their last two games. Sparked by the acquisitions of Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard, and John Moore, the Rangers exploded for a season-high six goals to defeat the Pens at MSG on trade deadline day.  That was the Rangers’ first win against Pittsburgh in their previous eight games, dating back over a year to January 2012. The Rangers fell short in the rematch in Pittsburgh two days later, rallying to force overtime only to lose in a shootout.

Playoff History:  

  • Series Matchups:  0-4 (.000)
  • Playoff Game Record: 4-16 (.200)

The Rangers have never defeated the Pens in the postseason.  They’ve never even been close.  The only time they’ve even led Pittsburgh in a series was back in 1992, when they led the series two games to one before dropping three straight.  The teams last met in the 2008 Conference Semifinals, with the Penguins taking the series in five games.  The series came to a painful end off Marian Hossa’s stick 7:10 into overtime.

Key to Victory: 

Score first.  The Rangers have the best record in the East when scoring first, winning 83.3 % of those games (15-2-1). The Penguins are right behind the Blueshirts, winning 82.1% of the time when they post the first goal, second best in the conference.  The difference is that Pittsburgh scores first more than any other team. In 28 of their 43 games (65.1%), they’ve posted the first marker.  The Rangers have only done so in just 18 of their 44 games (40.9%).


Boston Bruins – 20.9% Chance of Meeting

Rick Nash of the New York Rangers
Rick Nash puts one past Tuukka Rask (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

2013 Season Series:

  • Record vs. Boston : 2-1-0
  • Goals For:  8
  • Goals Against:  9
  • Power Play: 0.0% (0/14)
  • Penalty Kill: 93.8% (15/16)
  • Rangers’ Leading Goal Scorer:  Marian Gaborik (3).  Nobody else has more than one.

The Rangers dropped their 2013 season opener in Boston 3-1 but rebounded to win the next two matchups – one in overtime and one in a shootout.  Marion Gaborik led the Rangers in scoring against the Bruins, with all three of his goals coming in the team’s 4-3 overtime victory.   He’s gone now, so the Rangers will need someone else to help supply the offense.

Also, don’t get too down on the Rangers’ power play numbers or too excited about their amazing penalty kill.  All three games between the who clubs came early in the season when both the Rangers and Bruins were battling for the worst power play in the league.  Their last game was back on February 12, over two months ago. It will be interesting to see how the on-ice play between these two squads has changed since then.

Playoff History:  

  • Series Matchups:  3-6 (.333)
  • Playoff Game Record: 18-22-2 (.450)  Yes, way back in 1927, you could have a tie game in the playoffs.

It’s been a while since these two Original Six foes met in the playoffs.   Forty years, to be exact.  You have to go back to the days of the GAG line with Hadfield, Ratelle, and Gilbert, when the Blueshirts met the Bruins  in the first round of the 1973 playoffs.  The two teams met the previous year as well in the Stanley Cup Finals, which the Bruins won in six games.

The other two times the Rangers defeated the Bruins in the postseason, they ended up winning the Stanley Cup.  The Blueshirts rolled through Boston en route to Cup wins in 1928 and 1940.

Keys to Victory: 

Special Teams and Faceoffs.  The Bruins are the third-best team in the league 5-on-5 and they have the top-ranked penalty kill at 88.7%. If the Rangers hope to keep pace, they’re going to need to take advantage of their power play opportunities.   While still only ranked 20th overall at 16.3%, the Rangers’ power play has improved since the trade deadline.  They’re 7-for-30 (23.3%) since the trade deadline, good enough for top 10 in the league.  Of course, it all starts in the faceoff circle.  The Bruins lead the league at an amazing 56.4% on draws.  The Rangers, at just a hair above the midway point (50.3%), will need to make up that difference or they’ll find themselves quickly losing the battle of puck possession.


Montreal Canadiens – 16.4% Chance of Meeting

Carey Price
Montreal’s Carey Price (Eric Bolte-US PRESSWIRE)

2013 Season Series:

  • Record vs. Montreal: 0-3-0
  • Goals For:  1
  • Goals Against:  9
  • Power Play: 0.0% (0/5)
  • Penalty Kill: 71.4% (5/7)
  • Rangers’ Leading Goal Scorer:  Anton Stralman (1) – The only goal the Rangers scored against the Habs this year.

Well, at least they’re consistent.  The Rangers have given up precisely three goals in each game against the Canadiens.
They’ve only scored once.

The last goal Carey Price allowed by the Rangers was scored by Anton Stralman just over 12 minutes into the teams’ first game of the season.  He’s currently riding a shutout streak of over 167 minutes against New York.  The last time a Rangers forward scored against Montreal was over a year ago, when Brad Richards beat Carey Price back on March 30, 2012.

Playoff History: 

  • Series Matchups:  7-7 (.500)
  • Playoff Game Record: 25-34-2 (.424)

Throughout their 87 years in the league together, the Rangers and Canadiens have only played each other in the postseason 14 times.  They last met in the 1996 quarterfinals, which the Blueshirts won 4-2.   The last time the Habs beat the Rangers in the playoffs was on the way to winning their 24th Stanley Cup back in 1986… with a rookie named Patrick Roy in net.

Key to Victory: 

Score goals. The Rangers only have one goal against the Canadiens in three games played this season.  They’re not going to win many playoff games like that. Their only hope will be to put some past Price.  It’s not unlikely. Montreal has lost a lot of their momentum, going 2-4 in their last six and giving up a total of 24 goals in those games, pushing Price’s goals against average up to 2.54 on the year.  Scoring goals – especially the first – will mean a lot to the Rangers’ chances against the Habs if they meet up in the postseason.


Washington Capitals – 16.5% Chance of Meeting

Henrik Lundqvist 2012
(Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE)

2013 Season Series:

  • Record vs. Washington: 2-0-1
  • Goals For:  8
  • Goals Against:  4
  • Power Play: 33.3% (3/9)
  • Penalty Kill: 90.0% (9/10)
  • Rangers’ Leading Goal Scorer:  Derek Stepan (3)

The regular season matchup may look to heavily favor the Rangers, but keep in mind that these games were played before someone woke up the Capitals.  Since then, Washington has gone on an amazing 11-2-1 run that propelled them to the top of the Southeast Division.

Ovechkin was held to just one goal and one assist in three games against the Rangers this year.  Again, that was back when they were terrible. With 12 goals in his last 10 games, he’s hitting his stride at just the right time.  The same thing goes for the rest of the team. Goaltender Braden Holtby has gotten better as the season went on, with his save percentage climbing and his goals against average dropping more and more each month. He also happens to be in the midst of a six-game winning streak.

With the Caps the hottest team in hockey right now, the Rangers should be glad they only have a 16.5% chance of battling their recent playoff rivals.

Playoff History:  

  • Series Matchups:  3-4 (.429)
  • Playoff Game Record: 19-22-0 (.463)

The Rangers and Caps have battled in the postseason seven times, with the Caps winning four of those series. The two teams have met in the playoffs three of the past four years, with the Caps victorious in 2009 and 2011.  Most recently, the Rangers defeated the Capitals in the 2012 Conference Semifinals by a score of 2-1 in a nail-biter game seven.  They’ve met in each of the Rangers last 3 playoff appearances.  The Caps won in 2009 and 2011, with the Rangers finally coming back to win 4-3 in 2012.   Here’s a mic’d up look back at that series:

Key to Victory: 

Penalty Kill.  When it comes to special teams, the Caps are the polar opposite of the Boston Bruins.  Washington has the league’s best power play of 25.3%.  They also happen to have the third-worst penalty kill, currently stopping only 77.0% of opponents’ power plays.  While the Rangers need to use the power play to put up points against Boston, they need to leverage their penalty kill to keep them out against Washington. They also need to pick up a few power play goals of their own, if only to help give their penalty killers some offensive support.


In four games – or less – we’ll learn exactly who the Rangers will be squaring off against in the first round of the postseason.  Assuming they can hang on to their playoff spot…  Statistically speaking, there’s a 7.6% chance they won’t.

Follow Josh on Twitter – @joshsmith29