With last night’s victory over the Flyers, the Rangers clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and home ice until the Stanley Cup Finals. Next up on that agenda is the President’s Trophy, awarded to the best team in the regular season. Only the Canucks and Blues are competing with the Rangers for the Trophy, and the Blueshirts currently have an edge on both of them.
The Rangers and Canucks are currently tied with 109 points in 80 games, and the Blues sit right below them with 106 points in 79 games. If all three teams win out, then the Rangers and Canucks would finish with 113 points, and the Blues with 112 points. However, the Rangers have the first tiebreaker over both teams with 47 regulation/OT wins. The Blues have 44, and the Canucks have 42. This gives the Rangers a clear advantage over both teams, and makes them the front runner for the President’s Trophy.
Since the Canucks have the lead on the Blues, let’s focus on them. The Rangers would need to finish tied with the Canucks in points to clinch the President’s Trophy. The Canucks can finish with 113 points at best, which means the Rangers would just need to match that to edge them out, making their magic number four points. Any combination of four points earned by the Rangers or lost by the Canucks means that the Rangers would win the President’s Trophy.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. The Canucks have by far the easier schedule for the remaining two games. They have to play at Calgary on Thursday, and home to Edmonton on Saturday, two non-playoff teams. Conversely, the Rangers need to be in Pittsburgh on Thursday, and play host to Washington on Sunday. Pittsburgh is a lock for the playoffs, and Washington is still in a hunt for either the third or eigth seed.
Home ice throughout the playoffs is a nice perk, but the Rangers don’t necessarily need home ice to be successful. At home the Rangers are 27-11-2, and on the road they are 24-11-5. There’s not much difference there. With home ice in the Eastern Conference locked up, and no real difference in home/away records, fan logic would dictate that the Rangers look to rest players that are banged up, in particular their goalie, who appeared to hurt his hand last night.
But that is far from the John Tortorella style of coaching. He likely wants to send a message to the Penguins tomorrow, a team they will need to go through en route to a Cup run. Don’t expect the coach to sit any of his stars for that game, and allow the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin gain a critical mental edge. The Rangers will come out firing on all cylinders for that game. If anything, the coach might look to rest guys on Saturday, the final game of the year. But even that may be a long shot.
Tortorella has won a Stanley Cup before. No arm-chair coach or GM has. It’s why he makes these decisions, and not us.