NHL Playoffs: The Difference Between First And Fourth

I think we can all agree the New York Rangers have reached the final stretch of their regular season. This means the points are more important, the games have more pressure attached to them and there's generally playoff scenarios associated with the two points on the table.

Welcome to playoff hockey. Well, sort of. You don't need me to remind you the Rangers are trading punches with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top seed in the conference. In reality, the Rangers and Penguins are fighting for first and fourth place; I don't see either team slipping into fifth.

The difference between the two spots looks minor, but the playoffs would be significantly different depending on the seed. Do you really want to face the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round? Forget what the Rangers have done to the Flyers this season. I'll ask again: Do you really want to face the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs?

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Now, I'm not saying the Rangers can't beat the Flyers in a seven-game series. In fact, the only team I'm truly worried about beating the Rangers is, well, the Rangers.

If the Rangers' power play doesn't run cold, and if the offense keeps scoring goals then the Rangers are going to be in good shape. Think about it, the Rangers are in first place in the East with one of the worst power plays in the NHL. Read that sentence again. Imagine what would happen of the Rangers power play was middle of the pack?

I'm also not saying that a first round matchup with the Flyers would be easy pickings. The Flyers are a very talented team, who can easily win a seven-game series with anyone. That's what makes the playoffs so exciting, anyone can win any given series at any given time.

Which is exactly why the Rangers want to avoid a divisional matchup in the first round. If New York gets out of the first round of the playoffs there is a significant chance they will face a division opponent in the second round. Back-to-back divisional playoff series are a great way to wear a team down even more. So if the Rangers can avoid that fate in the first round, it would benefit the them greatly.

Then again, playing an eighth seeded team that had to fight all year to get into the playoffs isn't exactly easy pickings either. But it's still a better fate then the Flyers in the first round.

So what do you guys think? Who would you rather play in the first round.