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The Path Less Taken (That Everyone Is Secretly Trying To Take)

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The New York Rangers know their easiest path to the Eastern Conference Final. Can they take it?

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

First -- A reminder that there was a Bantering The Blueshirts yesterday rather than Tuesday because we pushed the show back to not conflict with the Rangers game. The show will return to its normal Tuesday night schedule unless a game pops up. The new episode is already up at blogtalkradio.com/blueshirtbanter or on any of our other carriers. Itunes users please subscribe/rate/leave a nice comment (as usual). Thanks for the continued support on this, guys! Here's more info about yesterday's show if you need it.

The worst kept secret in the Eastern Conference right now is where playoff teams want to end up in the Metro Division. With Washington holding the top overall seed, and Pittsburgh securely locked in second place, both the Rangers and the Islanders are fighting between themselves for the third overall seed in the division and the first wild card spot.

Except, this must be opposite day or something, since both teams would probably much prefer to lose out and find their way to the wild card where the Florida Panthers -- not the  Penguins -- await them.

There is a common ideology that no team wants to "back into the playoffs" and Alain Vigneault made it clear he agrees with this line of thinking when he ushered Henrik Lundqvist out into the Rangers' "we've-already-clinched" matchup against the Lightning. The Rangers won that game, and further pushed themselves up the standings towards a matchup with Pittsburgh in the first round.

Here's how things are shaped up right now between the Rangers and the Islanders. The Rangers sit in third place with 99 points in 80 games played and 42 ROW (the first tiebreaker in the event points are tied). The Islanders sit in the first wild card position with 97 points in 79 games played and 39 ROW.

If the Islanders beat the Rangers tonight, they will be tied with the Rangers in points -- although they'll still hold the wild card because the Rangers hold the ROW tiebreaker -- but will have two games left to the Rangers one to acquire three points.

If the Rangers lose out, the Islanders (who, in this assumption, would have beaten the Rangers tonight) would need just one more point over their final two games to overtake the Rangers in that final guaranteed divisional spot.

Remember, the playoffs no longer work off seeding. They work in a bracket formation similar to March Madness. If the Rangers find their way to the wild card, they avoid both Pittsburgh AND Washington until the Eastern Conference Final if they make it that far. Not that it will be easy pickings to get there, but it will be far easier avoiding two of the better teams in hockey out of the gate.

It will be interesting to see if the Islanders feel the same way, though. Not that the two teams would ever battle each other to lose, but, the outcome for the loser is a less scary road (note: there will be challenges with whoever the Rangers face) through the playoff woods.

I'm not one who believes in losing on purpose. But I'm also not one to believe these final two games would have much, or any, impact on how the Rangers are going to play come Game One. And if there's an opportunity to give themselves a more likely inroad to the Final, they need to think about taking it.

They just have to watch out, because the Islanders are thinking the same thing. Except this time losing is the key to get there.

Makes sense, right?