I was in bed fighting sleep when the Rangers lost to the Avalanche 3-2 in overtime. With news breaking about the NBA canceling games due to the ensuing pandemic, I thought it might be the last regular-season Rangers game I would see for a while. I didn’t think a while would be more than 10 months later.
I did get to see that Rangers team play again, more than four months later when they met Carolina in a best-of-5 play-in series. That series lasted the three-game minimum and after waiting 141 days for Rangers hockey, it was taken away again in four days.
Those August “playoff” games against the Hurricanes feel like they never happened. The Rangers team that showed up in the Toronto bubble looked like the Rangers team that showed up for the start of the regular season the previous October, a team which was nowhere close to competing for a full 60 minutes, let alone a playoff berth.
The Rangers ended up in the expanded postseason field because of the work they had done leading up to that disappointing result in Colorado. After beginning the New Year with a three-game losing streak in Western Canada, the Rangers began a magical stretch on Jan. 7, 2020, winning 16 of their next 22 games to pull themselves into the postseason picture. When I fought to stay awake as the Rangers tied the Avalance with 13 seconds left in regulation only to lose in overtime, I had spent more than two months nightly scoreboard watching long after my then-pregnant wife would go to bed.
After the loss in Colorado, the Rangers were on the outside looking in on the playoffs and math on the the remaining schedules of the Islanders and Blue Jackets weren’t on their side. The Rangers were going to need to win at least nine of their remaining 12 games to get into the postseason, and even that might not be enough because of the amount of overtime games the Islanders (15) and Blue Jackets (12) had played and the amount of loser points they had racked up. When the season was paused, the Rangers had 36 regulation and overtime wins to the Blue Jackets’ and Hurricanes’ 33 and the Islanders’ 32. All four teams were ahead of the Rangers in the standings.
This season will be 56 games, eight more than the last time there was a shortened season in 2012-13. Back then there were still three divisions per conference and the Winnipeg Jets were playing in the Southeast where their closest division opponent was 1,558.4 miles away in Washington D.C. (Only in the NHL.) Here are the points-per-game needed in the Eastern Conference in the eight years since that 48-game season. (I adjusted the 2012-13 standings to reflect today’s postseason format.)
In order to leave a potential cushion and not be disappointed, planning to need 1.20 points per game (the high end of the list) to earn a postseason berth would be wise. That means Rangers fans should be looking for the team to accumulate 67 points in the 56 games this season to get in teh playoffs.
Four teams from each division will make the playoffs. The Rangers’ division is the following (in order of their Eastern Conference finish from the regular season):
The East is so deep I feel like the coach in Rudy who tells the walk-on tryouts, “NCAA regulations allow us to dress just 60 for home games, which means at least 35 scholarship players are going to be watching the games from the stands.” How do you pick four postseason teams out of those eight? If you drop Buffalo and New Jersey from being playoff teams based on last season (and the fact they are the two weakest teams on paper), you still have to cut two of the remaining six teams.
Let’s say both the Sabres and Devils are eliminated. (If they’re not, this division is even more ridiculous that originally expected.) In order for the Rangers to reach the playoffs, the Rangers are going to have to average about 1.20 points per game and have two of these five teams miss the playoffs:
1. Eastern Conference runner-up to eventual champion Lightning
2. First in Metropolitan, third in East prior to season being paused
3. Third in Metropolitan, fifth in East prior to season being paused
4. Second in Metropolitan, fourth in East prior to season being paused
5. First in Eastern Conference prior to season being paused
To put it another way, the Rangers are going to have to average roughly 1.20 points per game and have two of these happen:
1. The Islanders to play like the team from the second half of last season and not the team from the first half or the team from the playoffs and miss the playoffs.
2. The Capitals to miss the playoffs for the second time in 14 years.
3. The Penguins to miss the playoffs for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s rookie season (2005-06).
4. The Flyers to go from being the best team in the league in the second half and arguably the best team in the Metropolitan in the second half to missing the playoffs.
5. The Bruins to regress from being the best team in the East last year by eight points and the East champion the season before to missing the playoffs.
I’m not cutting the Rangers. I understand the rebuild isn’t complete. I understand a postseason berth last summer was a gift and shouldn’t factor in evulating this season’s success ordevelopment in what will be a second straight unusual season. I understand the abundance of youth and inexperience the roster will feature this season. I’m still not cutting them. At least not yet.
I want the Rangers to be a playoff team. I think they can be a playoff team. It’s just going to take a lot for them to be a playoff team.