It took an overtime loss for it to finally happen, but the New York Rangers will be playing in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
New York’s impressive start to the season has helped the team clinch a playoff berth and avoid the desperate battle taking place between four teams for the second Wild Card spot.
The Rangers were never going to have to have to enter that fight because of their lead in the standings, but being able to put a check mark next to “clinching the playoffs” still feels good.
Unfortunately for the Rangers the playoffs don’t test the team you were back in November- it tests the team that you are today. And right now the Rangers look like a team that might struggle to beat the Montreal Canadiens or even the Ottawa Senators in a seven-game series.
Alain Vigneault has five games left on the regular season schedule to continue his perpetual experimentation with the lineup.
The Rangers remaining five regular season games
3/31: vs Pittsburgh Penguins
4/2: vs Philadelphia Flyers
4/5: at Washington Capitals
4/8: at Ottawa Senators
4/9: vs Pittsburgh Penguins
In these next five games Vigneault and the Rangers are hoping to address a few big questions that are haunting a team that has gone 3-4-3 in its last ten games. In the Eastern Conference only the Devils have struggled more in the last ten contests.
What role will Kevin Klein play for the Rangers in the playoffs? What role will Pavel Buchnevich play? Is Jimmy Vesey a 16 minute a night player or a 10 minute a night player? Does Henrik Lundqvist have enough time to get his form back?
Is there enough time to fix a penalty kill that’s mired at 73.7 percent since the start of February?
The Rangers have more question marks than any competitor should have heading into the postseason. It’s a little late in the year to be searching for an identity and chemistry, but the lines continue to get juggled and the kids continue to get benched.
This trip through the Metropolitan Division with a stop in Ottawa is not a bad way for the Rangers to test their mettle. Two games against the Penguins and a game in Washington against the Capitals could tell us a lot about where the Rangers really are right now.
Of course we won’t see the Rangers in top gear for the last five games of the season.
Star players could and likely should rest. Avoiding injury of any kind becomes the priority for every player on the roster. There is even an argument to let players like Chris Kreider and Rick Nash rest and plug Matt Puempel and Tanner Glass back into the lineup.
These games don’t matter beyond preparing the team for the playoffs. The results don’t matter. The process is what matters. And the Rangers seemingly have quite a lot to work on.
In other words, we almost certainly won’t see the best of the Rangers as the season comes to a close. We will just have to hope that the best version of the team is ready to show up after Apr. 9th.