It feels like a lifetime since the New York Rangers played in a postseason series. They are back, and in what I think is a more promising position than ever.
It may not be under the usual circumstances, but the New York Rangers will taste postseason hockey for the first time since 2017, against a friendly foe no less. The Blueshirts are set to play a best-of-five play-in series against Carolina. It’s what I would classify as a ‘freebie’ opportunity to make some noise in the playoffs. They have nothing to lose.
Whether it’s a 24-team format or regular format, the Rangers making in the playoffs this year is like being handed a gambling credit to place a bet. If they lose, it’s an early playoff experience for the youngest roster in the league, that they otherwise may not have had. In effect, they are playing with “house money.”
Based upon the NHL’s points percentage criteria, Carolina will be seeded sixth and the Rangers eleventh. New York, however, swept the season series 4-0. And to boot, the Canes will not have the luxury of playing at home with the games held at a neutral site.
New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton acquired the Canes first-round pick back in February for defenceman Brady Skjei. The deal allowed NYR to continue their playoff pursuit while staying true to acquiring assets for rebuilding. A Rangers advancement to the field of 16, not only makes that trade so much juicier, but it also makes Gorton look like a virtuoso swindler, again.
Additionally, it’s fair to say that if the Rangers move on to the 16-team playoffs, it will be considerably earlier than what anyone predicted. The core pieces are in place, and the team is in its early stages of what could materialize into a dynasty, several years down the line. Their situation is the opposite of Carolina. The Hurricanes are coming off their most successful run since winning the cup in 2006 and are at the peak of their development.
Of course, the Canes were one of the only two teams to vote against the new return to play format (the other was Tampa Bay). Carolina GM Rod Brind’Amour spoke out, questioning what was the point of grinding through their 68 games. That’s a pretty short-sighted approach.
In today’s hyper-competitive NHL, there is no telling who could have squeaked their way in or out of the playoffs over the last three weeks of the regular season. The 24-team format is the best way to address giving the bubble teams a chance, while expediting the play-in process, over a limited time frame.
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A July resumption of action will throw off next season’s schedule. So clubs should be grateful for the chance to play again. If some teams think they’re more entitled than others, they have their opportunity to prove it on the ice.
The New York Rangers have the two most talented offensive players in the series, Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. Also, they possess a hot power play and tight goaltending competition between stars young and old. This series should be very favorable for the Blueshirts.
The Rangers have been given a new life with the NHL’s revised playoff format. They might as well take advantage.