Rangers Can Secure Playoff Position with 5 Key In-Division Games

Five of the New York Rangers’ 15 remaining games are against three Metropolitan Division rivals who all are on track to make the postseason. They play the Pittsburgh Penguins in back-to-back games on March 16 and 18, two consecutive contests versus the Carolina Hurricanes on March 21 and 23, and the New Jersey Devils on March 30. The Hurricanes and Devils are the favorites to finish with the top two spots in the Metro, while the Rangers, Penguins, and New York Islanders are battling for the third spot.

Gerard Gallant New York Rangers
Gerard Gallant, Head Coach of the New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

New York was inconsistent during February. Following a six-game winning streak from Feb. 6 – Feb. 17, they closed the month with one win in five games. But in March, they’re 4-2-1 as they prepare to play back-to-back games versus the Penguins. New York played the Devils previously in three meetings this year, with New Jersey being 2-0-1 in those three contests. The Rangers defeated the Hurricanes in two previous matchups this year and lost to Pittsburgh in overtime on March 12. Let’s take a look at why the Rangers can secure playoff positioning with five upcoming games against three of their Metropolitan Division rivals.

Rangers Could Open the Playoffs vs. the Hurricanes or Devils

The Rangers look to be on track to face either the Hurricanes or Devils in the opening round. Both clubs present a tremendous test for New York, who is looking for a second consecutive deep playoff run. Carolina lost to the Rangers in a second-round series last year and will be looking to turn the tide if the clubs meet again.

Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour is one of the league’s brightest young head coaches. Even without Andrei Svechnikov and Max Pacioretty for the rest of 2022-23, Brind’Amour will have his team raring to go in a series versus the Rangers. The upcoming games against each other will serve as a potential postseason preview.

Rangers fans should keep an eye on Hurricanes forwards Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas due to their big play potential. New additions at the trade deadline, Jesse Puljujarvi and Shayne Gostisbehere, are adjusting to their new club. Similar to Brent Burns, Gostisbehere is an offensive-minded defenseman with the capability of anchoring their power play. Having multiple offensive-minded blueliners will serve Carolina well on power play chances during the postseason. With the season-ending injuries to Svechnikov and Pacioretty, the Hurricanes will need steady contributions from forwards such as Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Teuvo Teravainen, and Seth Jarvis heading into the playoffs.

The Devils are in the midst of a season they have not had since 2017-18, the last year they qualified for the postseason, and are seeking their first playoff series victory for the first time since 2012. Their core of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt will be eager to take the next step in their careers, especially with Hughes making his postseason debut.

New Jersey has received a boost from their acquisition of Vitek Vanecek last offseason. He is one of the top starting goalies, joining the likes of other netminders such as Linus Ullmark, Igor Shesterkin, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Alexandar Georgiev. The addition of Timo Meier at the trade deadline gives them another offensive threat their opponents need to account for during the playoffs. Once he gets further adjusted to his new club, the line combination of he, Hughes, and Bratt will be difficult for any team to limit due to their individual big play potentials.

The two teams engaged in two memorable Eastern Conference Final series in 1994 and 2012. If the previous matchups this season are any indication, the individual fanbases and hockey fans will be in store for another exciting series in their rivalry should the teams meet one another during the playoffs.

The Rangers and Penguins Continue Their Long-Standing Rivalry

The Rangers and Penguins have played during the postseason five times since Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been in the NHL. The Rangers have a slight advantage, winning three of the five playoff series. Last season, they battled from a 3-1 series deficit to win the first-round matchup. New York will aim to win the remaining two games of their season series at home this week, but it appears unlikely they will face one another in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Penguins will likely face either the Boston Bruins, Hurricanes, or Devils in the first round should they clinch the third seed in the division or one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. They are eight points behind the Rangers for third place in the Metropolitan Division but are playing well at the right time, with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 contests.

Jake Guentzel Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Jake Guentzel has been a great complementary player this year. After struggling during the 2020-21 playoffs with one goal and one assist in six contests, he excelled with eight goals and two assists in seven games in the series last year against the Rangers. He’s capable of being the Penguins’ top forward should he need to be in the absence of Crosby or Malkin.

If the club can also receive consistent production from Rickard Rakell, Jason Zucker, and Bryan Rust, the Penguins will again be a formidable playoff opponent. Pittsburgh has a serviceable tandem in goal with Tristian Jarry and Casey DeSmith. However, the duo only has nine career postseason starts between them. But head coach Mike Sullivan is among the elite in his field with back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, so he’ll know how to cover up for his goaltenders’ lack of playoff experience.

Rangers Have Reinforcements In Kane and Tarasenko

Throughout their history, the Rangers have been a popular destination for some of the league’s top veteran players. This year is no different, as they acquired Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane in separate trade deadline deals. Both have won championships previously and are aiming to help New York break their Stanley Cup drought, and both should be more acclimated by the start of the franchise’s opening-round playoff series. Kane is dealing with nagging lower-body ailments and has clearly seen a dip in his production from previous years. But as long as he is active, he is one of the best offensive playmakers in the league.

Following the Rangers’ latest victory on March 14 versus the Washington Capitals, Kane commented he is progressing but seeking improvement. “It is getting there. There are certain things I can do to help me get into a rhythm a bit more as far as getting the puck. Tonight was a step in the right direction.” He characterized their offensive outburst in the first period against the Capitals as being “the standard for us now and the way we want to play.”

Related: 3 Takeaways From Last 4 Rangers Games

The Rangers will be very challenging for opponents to defend if they go into the playoffs with momentum and relatively healthy due to their additions of Kane and Tarasenko. Following an inconsistent month in February, they are looking to sustain their winning record in March. They will have quite the challenge in five divisional contests over their remaining nine games during the month. They will need to play exceptionally over the season’s final month and need the Hurricanes or Devils to struggle to advance in the division standings.