The potential Rangers 1st round opponents are down to 4 teams.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

March has come and gone. The New York Rangers enter the final three weeks of the season as the front runner for the President’s Trophy, giving them home ice throughout the playoffs. Attention is shifting to the potential Rangers 1st round opponents, which is still very much up in the air.

It is unlikely the Rangers get the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, and assuming the Atlantic Division stays the course, the Blueshirts won’t see any of Tampa, Boston, or Florida until the Eastern Conference Final. But before they even get that far, they need to win the first round, which is no guarantee.

The Rangers 1st round opponents are really down to just four team: Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit, or the Islanders. There shouldn’t be a preference about which team to face, but there are certainly better matchups than others based on the Rangers style of play.

The Rangers are far better than all of these teams, but anything can happen in a short series. The teams with better goaltending are usually less desirable teams to face, but there are other factors as well. Again, the Rangers should beat any of these four teams rather easily. Upsets happen regularly, though, and looking past any of them could spell doom early.

If you’re looking at these 4 teams and wondering how two of the four will make the playoffs, look no further than the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, who were supposed to be far better than this quartet. Goes to show you that anything can happen.

4. Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings are a weird team. They should be better than their record with a decent enough blue line and a top-nine that is, at worst, decent. Their high end skill up front is dangerous, even if they’ve only been producing on the powerplay lately.

Detroit is easily the most well constructed team of the four, but they lack elite talent that some of the other potential Rangers 1st round opponents have. High end talent is needed to make long runs, but depth, good defense, and a hot goalie can win a series.

3. Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals have by far the most shooting talent, and Alex Ovechkin is still capable of changing a series on his own. Add in Charlie Lindgren’s career season, and the Caps have the goaltending and high end skill that, if it gets hot, can steal a series.

That said, the Caps also have the worst goal differential of the 4 potential Rangers 1st round opponents, and possibly the worst depth. Top heavy teams like the Caps present some challenges, but the Rangers have far more depth this season and a true shutdown line that can hopefully neuter the Caps top line.

The Caps are also 6-3-1 in their last 10, by far the best of the four potential Rangers 1st round opponents.

2. New York Islanders

The Islanders are probably the most desirable opponent–to some fans–among the Rangers potential 1st round opponents. The Islanders have been the beneficiaries of 15 OT losses, are 2-7-1 in their last 10, and have an abysmal -29 goal differential. On paper, the Islanders should be one of the more desirable teams to face.

But the Islanders have Ilya Sorokin, who is just as good as Shesterkin and alone can steal a series. JG Pageau is a Rangers killer. Bo Horvat and Mat Barzal need to be respected, as does some of their depth up front and their decent enough blue line.

However the Islanders have by far the worst penalty kill of the 4 potential Rangers 1st round opponents. This is balanced by the Isles taking just 410 PIMs this season, best in the NHL. The Rangers would capitalize on a bunch of powerplays, but getting them might be challenging.

1. Philadelphia Flyers

It seems odd to rank a very well coached Philadelphia Flyers team as the “most desirable” opponent to face, but here we are. The Flyers are also beneficiaries of the OT loss, with 10 of them this season, are well below .500 in the last few weeks, and are dealing with coaching drama.

What makes the Flyers a better matchup for the Rangers is their lack of high-end skill that would force Peter Laviolette to get Alex Wennberg or Mika Zibanejad out there. They have some solid players, but no game breakers like a Dylan Larkin, Alex Ovechkin, or Bo Horvat. They are very reminiscent of those pre-2012 Rangers teams that had depth but little high end skill.

The Flyers also take by far the most penalties among the potential Rangers 1st round opponents (570 minutes). They have a solid penalty kill, but the Rangers have one of the top powerplays in the game. The Flyers are also terrible on the powerplay, meaning they’d have to beat the Rangers at 5v5 by a wide margin.

The one wild card is rookie goalie Ivan Fedotov, the Flyers 7th rounder from 2015 who is finally coming over from Russia just in time for the playoffs. He’s huge and he’s a rookie goalie, so the PTSD is real.


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