Previewing Potential Rangers’ Atlantic Division Postseason Opponents

With seven games remaining on the New York Rangers 2021-22 regular-season schedule, Gerard Gallant’s team sits second in the Metropolitan Division. Their 102 points are two fewer than the first-place Carolina Hurricanes and are seven more than the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins’ point total. If the Rangers can surpass the ‘Canes, they will play the team in the top wild-card spot; a team that will likely come out of the Atlantic Division.

Although the Rangers lost their last meeting with the Hurricanes 4-2, the two foes meet one more time this season, making a Rangers’ first-place finish a possibility. A loss to the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night puts the Hurricanes even with the Rangers in games played, with just a slight two-point lead. The Boston Bruins occupy the top wild-card spot, three points back from the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Rangers may not be the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup at the season’s end, but they have proven that they will be tough to beat come playoff time. Not only have they drastically improved since the trade deadline, but their ability to find ways to pull out wins from the jaws of defeat is a massive characteristic to have.

Goaltending and depth are crucial to postseason success, and now the Blueshirts possess both. Feeling confident and winning a series are two different things, but let’s look at how the Rangers stack up against their two possible Atlantic Division opponents.

Tampa Bay Lightning: 3rd in Atlantic, 98 Points

  • Rangers won the season series 3-0
  • NYR: 3.03 GF/GP | 2.51 GA/GP | 25.5% PP | 82.0% PK
  • TBL: 3.26 GF/GP | 2.74 GA/GP | 20.9% PP | 81.9% PK

Tampa Bay has been synonymous with winning the past two seasons, and a slow (for their standards) regular season shouldn’t disguise how good they are. They have Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal, which means they have a chance to win every night. The scoring depth with Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat is there, and Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh are pillars on the backend.

Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But for some odd reason, the Rangers fared well against this juggernaut group during the 2021-22 season. If these two teams were to meet in the first round, the Rangers would come in highly confident, and for a good reason. Led by Igor Shesterkin, who shut out the Lightning once this season, the Rangers outscored the Bolts 10-4 over three meetings.

It was a dominant display for a young team to handle the defending champs like the Rangers did this season. But the reality of the situation is their roster is suited to play the Lightning, whether it is in the postseason or regular season. Both teams have magnificent goaltenders, a solid forward corps, and big, mobile defense.

The Rangers can go toe to toe with the Lightning, but Tampa’s experience in a playoff series will be a significant factor. Ultimately, this series could go either way and likely would emulate these two teams’ hard-fought series just a few years ago.

My prediction: Tampa wins this series in seven games.

Boston Bruins: 4th in Atlantic (1st Wild Card), 95 Points

  • Rangers Lead Season Series 2-0 (Final Meeting April 23)
  • NYR: 3.03 GF/GP | 2.51 GA/GP | 25.5% PP | 82.0% PK
  • BOS: 3.09 GF/GP | 2.70 GA/GP | 21.8% PP | 82.1% PK

This season, the Rangers and Bruins have played two out of three meetings, with the Blueshirts taking both. The first one was a 5-2 victory by the Rangers, but the second was a much closer 2-1 win in a shootout. The third and final matchup of the season will be a much more accurate test as to how these two would fair if they clash in the postseason.

But, going off of what we have seen thus far, the Rangers have controlled play for the majority of the two games. Like Tampa, Boston has yet to crack the Rangers this season but has a veteran core with a wealth of experience. The Rangers look to have the edge in goal with Shesterkin over Jeremy Swayman, but both netminders would be playing their first postseason games in this series if it came to fruition.

Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins
Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This series would feature a ton of talent on both offense and defense, leaving the result primarily up to which team’s depth will shine through. The Rangers’ trade deadline and young upside make me believe they have the depth edge in this matchup. In addition, with the emergence of Braden Schneider and K’Andre Miller getting better nightly, the blue line of the Rangers has a slight edge over the Bruins.

Related: Exploring the Rangers’ Potential 2022 First-Round Playoff Opponents

But whenever you have the trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, you have a legitimate shot. This series would be another nail-biter, but I think the Rangers have the edge.

My prediction: Rangers will win the series in six games.

The Eastern Conference is a flat-out war zone. Odds are, each playoff team will have 100 points, and there won’t be an easy game for any of the eight teams this postseason. For the Rangers to advance, they will have to play exceptionally well. Regardless of the result, this will be an invaluable experience for their younger players.

But after putting up the type of regular season they have this year, Gallant’s squad would feel disappointed with a first-round exit. They have the talent and depth to fight with anyone, whether that is the likely matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins or the less likely matchups with the two Atlantic Division squads mentioned above.

The playoffs are right around the corner, and regardless of who the Rangers face, their first-round series will be a doozy.

Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.

The Hockey Writers HockeyPedia 800x120

Latest News & Highlights