The playoffs will now work like this, according to Dan Rosen of NHL.com:
The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It will be possible, then, for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends three.
The seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the lowest number of points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second fewest points.
The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. The winners of each series will play for berths in the Conference Championship series.
The two divisional champions in each conference will then play in the conference finals to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
How do the Rangers stack up against their new division foes? Read on to find out.
Of the three new teams, the Rangers have the biggest rivalry with the Washington Capitals.
The two teams had a fierce playoff series in 2013, where the Rangers came back from two games down to win the series in seven.
On paper, the Rangers look pretty good in this matchup. They were able to limit Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and will only be better on the back end when Marc Staal returns.
Henrik Lundqvist continues to stymie the Capitals—he put up a .947 save percentage in the playoffs, including two shutouts in back-to-back elimination games.
The Caps were able to keep Rick Nash off the board, but they were not able to stop Derick Brassard, who had nine points in the series.
Quite simply, the Rangers are the better team. The Caps had the chance to put the Rangers away and did not.
The budding rivalry between these two teams will only intensify the more the play, meaning that each game will be incredibly physical.
But the Rangers should be happy to see a team that they've proven they can beat.
The Rangers were 3-0 against the Hurricanes last season, although in all three games, Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward was injured and did not appear.
Still, the Hurricanes had a rough year, finishing in third-to-last place in the Eastern Conference. They are in rebuild mode.
That said, Carolina does have talent, especially with two of the three Staal players, Jeff Skinner and Alex Semin. They are not an easy out.
The Rangers did not always play consistently, and sometimes they played down to their competition. The more the Rangers face the Hurricanes, the more they will have to fight that impulse.
When Ward returns to starting duty, the Hurricanes should be a bit better. But not by much. They are a team that is at least a few years from seriously contending.
As such, the Rangers should have an easy time against them.
The Rangers did not face the Blue Jackets last season, but the two teams do have a lot of history together. In fact, the two completed two major deals this season.
The first sent Rick Nash to the Rangers for Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky. The second sent Derick Brassard, John Moore and Derek Dorsett to the Blue Jackets for Marian Gaborik.
While the Rangers missed Anisimov and Dubinsky, both trades seemed to have worked out for the two teams. Gaborik was reinvigorated in Columbus, while Brassard and Moore look like budding stars, and Nash put up big numbers.
It will be interesting to see what Gaborik and the improved Jackets do against the Rangers. The Jackets barely missed the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker for the eighth seed. They were led by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who put in a stellar year, with a 2.00 goals-against average and a.932 save percentage.
Gaborik will also perform his best against the Rangers, as the ending between the two parties was acrimonious and hurried.
The Blue Jackets are an up-and-coming team with three first-round draft picks. While they may not be an immediate threat next season, this is a team that will start to become a consistent playoff team.
Thus, the Rangers should be most worried about the Blue Jackets. They have the best goaltender, loads of young talent and more in the pipeline. The Jackets are a hardworking team with depth—the kind of team that succeeds against the Rangers.