If the playoffs started today, the Rangers’ first round opponent would be the Pittsburgh Penguins. Some may say pick your poison, but if you ask me, a first round date with the Penguins would be ideal for the Rangers.
There’s no doubt that with Crosby and Malkin the Penguins could be dangerous come postseason play, but if given the choice between them, the Islanders, Bruins, or the scorching hot Senators, I’m going with the Penguins every single time.
Reasons to Avoid the Islanders, Bruins, and Senators
Before I get to why a first round date with Pittsburgh would better suit the Rangers, I’ll outline why matchups against the Islanders, Bruins or the Senators would be less than ideal.
Why would the Islanders be a tough opening round draw for the Rangers? Simply because they’re the Islanders, and no matter what the circumstances they always find a way to up their game against the cross-town rival Rangers.
As fun as a Rangers-Islanders postseason series would be, and trust me it would be incredible both on and off the ice, I feel that it’s a series that the Rangers shouldn’t want any part of. It would be physical and nasty, and if even if they came away victorious, it wouldn’t be without some serious bruises, something that they’d like to avoid in round one if possible.
As for home ice, the Rangers really wouldn’t ever be away from home, as even the games at the Coliseum would at worst see 35 percent Rangers fans, and that’s being generous. Even so, not a good early round matchup as far as I’m concerned.
But what about the Bruins, you ask? Two words. Tuukka Rask.
In the waning minutes of their recent loss to the Panthers in Florida which made Boston’s road to the playoffs quite a bit more difficult, Jack Edwards even said that this could be the end of the Bruins as we’ve known them. And while he’s probably correct, you cannot underestimate the abilities of the man between the pipes, Tuukka Rask.
With a Stanley Cup ring, a Vezina Trophy, and an Olympic Bronze medal on his resume, Rask is not the goaltender you want to meet in round one. He just isn’t. Despite the Rangers being a marginally better team than Boston, Raks has the ability to steal a series, and if he gets hot at the right time, he could most certainly be the wet blanket to the Rangers’ Presidents’ Trophy winning season.
Lucky for the Blueshirts, the Panthers may taken care of that by sticking the dagger in the 2014-15 Bruins with their win over Boston on Thursday, so this scenario may not stand a chance at ever coming to fruition. Better off that way anyway.
Then there’s Ottawa. And sure, everyone can keep talking about how Andrew Hammond is untested in the playoffs, blah, blah, blah…
None of that matters, because let’s face it, nobody in their right mind should want to play a team that’s won 21 of their last 28 (three of those loses came beyond regulation time), and a goalie who has won 19 of 23 starts heading into the playoffs.
You know that whole thing about momentum and a hot goaltender? The Senators have both of those things, in addition to a red-hot a rookie in Mark Stone who’s been on a tear in recent months.
There’s no denying that they would be a terribly dangerous first round opponent for anyone, let alone the Rangers.
Give Me Pens or Give Me Death
So maybe that header’s a bit dramatic, but even so, given the current possibilities with regard to first round matchups, an opening round meeting with the Penguins would be a best case scenario for the Rangers.
Why? Well most importantly the Rangers have the substantial edge in defensive depth, especially given the injuries to Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff. With the current six defenseman the Penguins are currently rolling with, only three (Martin, Lovejoy, and Scuderi) would’ve been considered full-time NHLers prior to this season, and they certainly don’t stack up very well against McDonagh, Girardi, Yandle and Co.
The Penguins have also found themselves limping toward the postseason in the latter stages on this year’s campaign. With wins in just three of their last 13 games, zero thirty-goal scorers on their roster, and a goaltender in Fleury who has likened himself to a slice of Swiss cheese in recent postseason runs, this year’s Pittsburgh team is a far cry from what they once were in the late 2000’s. I’m not sure I’d go as far as some have and say that the Penguins championship window is closed, but it certainly does seem to be getting smaller by the day.
While the talent of Crosby and Malkin shouldn’t be discounted, and perhaps lower expectations will benefit their team with a lessened amount of pressure, at this point in time, the Penguins are not a team that sends shivers down my spine at the thought of a playing them in the playoffs.
With the confidence of last spring’s playoff run, including a seven game series win over the Penguins, it would seem to me that a matchup against Pittsburgh in round one would suit the Rangers quite well in 2015.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.