With two games left in the regular season, the Rangers only have two unknowns. The first is the President’s Trophy, and the second is their first round opponent. Florida, Washington, and Buffalo are in a dogfight for the last two spots in the Eastern Conference. One of Florida or Washington will win the Southeast and lay claim to the third seed. The other will be fighting with Buffalo for that last spot.
Smart logic puts Florida in as the third seed and Southeast Division champions. They need one point in their next two games –Washington to not get a point in their final two games– to clinch the division. Despite their goal differential (-25), Bettman point bonuses (18) or their low number of regulation/OT wins (31), the Panthers will return to the playoffs as Southeast Division champs.
As for Washington and Buffalo, well they are both tied with 88 points with two games left to play. Washington has the lock on ROW wins, so Buffalo needs to finish ahead of the Caps in points in order to make the playoffs. Both teams are facing two playoff teams in their final two games, so it’s could come down to the last game of the year.
Washington has the clear advantage here, their magic number is at four. A loss hurts Buffalo much more than it hurts the Caps, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. In all likelihood, the Rangers will get the Caps or the Sabres. Both are capable of beating the Rangers in a seven game series. The Caps have done it routinely over the past few seasons, and any team with Ryan Miller in net is a dangerous team. It’s going to be a tough draw in the first round.