It's late March, and while everyone is getting caught up in March Madness, I am focused on the final stretch of the Rangers' season.
With just 11 games to play, the Rangers find themselves fighting for one of the many postseason spots up for grabs in the chaotic Eastern Conference. The Rangers (sixth), Panthers (ninth), Sabres (10th), Canadiens (seventh), Hurricanes (eighth), Pens (fifth), and Flyers (fourth) are all fighting for the remaining five Playoff seeds and are within eight points of one another.
Looking at their schedule, the Rangers are at something of a disadvantage compared to those they are competing with. They're done with their division and city rival, the Islanders, who are at the bottom of the East. Also, they finish their season against postseason contenders: They must travel to Carolina and Boston, they host the Canadiens, and round out the season with a home-and-home against the Flyers.
The Rangers playing the Bruins in the first round would be the most favorable for N.Y. of the three cases. The Rangers are 2-1 on the season against Boston and have one game left to play with them this campaign. The only loss came in a 1-0 shutout in which the Rangers couldn't get by Rask, who made 35 saves.
Not only have the Rangers had the Bruins' number, but Boston has struggled as of late. They have gone 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, a stretch that includes an inexcusable 2-1 loss to the West-worst Coyotes. It is not only possible, but likely that the Devils will catch them for the one seed in the East.
The next possible opponent is the Washington Capitals. The Rangers have not played well against them this season, going 1-3. Worst was the embarrassing 5-4 OT loss at the Garden, sustained after blowing a 4-0 lead.
The Capitals have what everyone wants, the best player in hockey. Ovechkin leads the NHL with 49 goals and single-handedly pulled the Capitals back from that 4-0 deficit in N.Y. earlier in the year. There is no doubt he thrives playing in the world's greatest arena.
Of course, Washington has more than just Alex; they also have a great mix of youth and veterans. Backstrom has 55 assists, and Theodore has a GAA of 2.81. This just shows how balanced this team is and how scary a first-round opponent they'd be.
The last potential matchup is against the Devils, and if you're a Rangers fan, this is the last thing you want to see in the first round.They are currently red-hot, as they're 22-6 in their last 28 games. This season, they are 3-2 against the boys in blue and won the last three meetings.
Last season's opening-round series against N.J. worked out well, but there was speculation that had to do with a tired Brodeur. Down the stretch, Martin did not get the rest he needed, and it showed in the Playoffs.
This season, he has been off for nearly four months, so he is peppy and should be right back on his game come time to chase the Cup. He hasn't missed a step since his injury.
It is easy to compare the teams the Rangers may see in the Playoffs, but keep in mind that New York went through a metamorphosis this season. A new coach and the additions of Avery, Antropov, and Morris make the them a serious Stanley Cup contender.
Avery especially has added a spark the Rangers needed; he's scoring goals and drawing penalties.
It will be interesting to see what will happen if the Rangers and Devils do end up meeting in round one. It will be another battle in the Avery-Brodeur war, not to mention a continuation of the historic Rangers-Devils rivalry.