Before the NHL season was put on hold, the Rangers were unexpectedly fighting for a playoff spot. A hot January and February put the Rangers fourth in the wild card hunt with 79 points, just two points back of WC2 Columbus. The Blueshirts would also have to leapfrog the Islanders (80 points, two games in hand).
Making up points and spots in the standings is difficult in the NHL. The loser point has created an illusion of playoff competition for teams that really aren’t competing, and it makes harder for these teams, even if they do get hot, to make up ground.
For a while, we were using 98 points as the barometer, based on last year’s playoffs. This year is a little bit less, closer to 95 points based on PPG of Carolina Hurricanes (81 points in 68 games, 97 point pace) and Blue Jackets (81 points in 70 games, 95 points). The Rangers would have just needed to tie for the WC2, as they had the RW tiebreaker over all of these teams.
For the Blueshirts to get to 95 points, they needed 16 points in 12 games, or 1.3 points per game. Certainly very doable. Eight wins gets it done, so 8-4-0 was the target. For every win they didn’t get, they needed two OT/SO losses, so 7-3-2 and 6-2-4 also would have gotten the job done here.
The schedule wasn’t doing them favors though. Of the 12 games remaining, only four (@ARI, @BUF, @FLA, vs CHI) were against non-playoff teams. As we saw against the Devils, these games are no guarantees. Assuming four wins would have been dangerous.
However of those eight games against playoff teams, only three were against teams in the top-two in their division (@WSH, @TBL, vs PHI). Like it was dangerous to assume four wins against the non-playoff teams, it’s dangerous to assume three losses here. Or at least assume three regulation losses. There’s a balance.
Before we get into the wins and losses, let’s remember that the Rangers were struggling at the time the season was postponed. They were 2-3-1 to start March and more importantly were without Chris Kreider due to a fractured foot. Kreider was skating, but unless they used the Time Stone on him, the bone was not healed. That’s just not humanly possible. Kreider’s absence (and Pavel Buchnevich’s before) was a blow to the top-six and the scoring balance of an already top-heavy team.
This question is posed as a point-in-time discussion – if the season had not been suspended, would the Rangers have made the playoffs? So let’s get into the game by game breakdown. These are simply my predictions based off a few factors: Team strength, how well they were playing, how well they’ve played against the Rangers, and their style of play.
– @ ARI – W: Let’s assume the Rangers have enough offensive firepower to overcome the Yotes, who don’t score much. This is a toss up though, the Rangers struggle against these kinds of teams.
– vs CGY – L: The Rangers didn’t play as well at home as they did on the road, and Calgary was riding a good streak.
– vs PIT – W: The Penguins were in free fall, and the Rangers knew they needed a win.
– @ PIT – OTL: It’s greedy to assume the Rangers would have swept this.
– @ BUF – W: Buffalo was also in free fall.
– vs CBJ – W: The biggest game of the year remaining. Let’s assume Kreider would have been back for this one. That positive energy fuels them to a win.
– @ WSH – L: A let down game after a huge win is normal, and relatively predictable.
– @ TBL – L: The Bolts were struggling, but they were a 100 point team this season. Those points come from somewhere.
– @ FLA – W: A big win to right the ship.
– vs PHI – L: I really hated having to say this, but nothing about those two losses said the Rangers were ever really in those games.
– @ PIT – L: This game broke the season for the Rangers. The Penguins are just a better team. Their struggles in March weren’t going to last through April. They know this is their last hurrah and played spoiler for the Rangers.
– vs CHI – W: Henrik Lundqvist got the start in this one, and the 45 save shutout.
Based off my armchair predictions, the Rangers would have finished 6-5-1, adding 13 points to their 79 and a total of 92 points. That wouldn’t have been enough for the Blueshirts to make the playoffs, but what a ride it was going to be. Things would have been thrown, noise complaints against filed, and big goals celebrated. It would have been a huge step forward for a team that needed to show progress.