The Rangers are still going to the playoffs. Since the first time I put out these rankings on Feb. 24, the Rangers have gone 10-2-1 and now sit in first in the Metropolitan Division and share the lead league in points (99) with Montreal and Anaheim. However, they have two games in hand on Montreal and three games in hand on Anaheim. So, yes, right now the Rangers are technically the best team in the entire NHL.
I don’t know that anyone could have seen a 35-8-3 run coming after they lost to Detroit on Dec. 6 to fall to 11-10-4. And certainly no one saw the Rangers going 17-3-3 after losing Henrik Lundqvist at the beginning of February. But here we are on March 23, a day after the Rangers embarrassed the Ducks with a 7-2 win at the Garden with the Rangers sitting atop the NHL.
Some things have changed over the last month since the original rankings came out and with 12 games and 19 days left in the season, I thought it was time to revisit them and put out the second installment of The Scared of the Rangers Playing Them in the Playoffs Power Rankings.
1. MONTREAL CANADIENS
Because I follow some Canadiens fans on Twitter, I’m not as scared of the Canadiens as I was a month ago. Yes, they’re still the biggest obstacle between the Rangers and getting back to the Stanley Cup Final, but hearing Canadiens fans complain about how the team isn’t as good as their record indicates, but rather it’s the Vezina- and MVP-like performance from Carey Price that has them in first in the Atlantic and tied with the Rangers in points has me less worried.
After losing six of eight to start March, the Canadiens have gotten back on track with three straight wins and back-to-back shutouts from Price. Price currently has a 1.86 goals against average and .938 save percentage. To put that in perspective, during Henrik Lundqvist’s memorable 1.97/.929 he was unbeatable and Price is having an even better season than that.
I don’t care how upset Canadiens fans might be or appear to be about their team’s recent play. The Canadiens are the team to beat for the Rangers.
2. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
The Rangers went 0-3 against the Lightning this year and haven’t seen them since Dec. 1 when the Rangers were a completely different team. So now there is a lot of mystery and unknown in how these two teams match up, but like I said a month ago, losing a playoff series to a team with Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman isn’t exactly how I want this Rangers season to end.
3. BOSTON BRUINS
I know this doesn’t look right having the Bruins this high up when they only have a one-point lead on Ottawa right now for the 8-seed and Ottawa has a game in hand on the Bruins, but this team never dies and the last thing I want them to do is get hot over the next two-plus weeks and then be the Rangers’ first-round opponent. The Bruins are the hardest team to put away in the third period and they seem to always tie up any game once Tuukka Rask heads to the bench in the final minute. They are playoff-tested and still have 11 players from their 2010-11 Cup-winning team and 13 of players from their 2012-13 Cup-losing team on their roster. While New York could use a series win over the Bruins to start to tilt the city rivalry back the right way, I’m not sure the reward is worth the risk.
4. OTTAWA SENATORS
The Senators moved into eighth place in the East on Monday night with a win over San Jose. I watched the third period because of a financial investment in the game and the Senators went into the third trailing 2-1 before turning into Team Canada and scoring four goals en route to a 5-2 win. The Senators opened February with five losses in seven games, but since they are 15-1-1. That’s insane. The Rangers will see them twice in the next two weeks and I will have a better feel for what Rangers fans could be in for in a seven-game series with the Senators, but they are peaking at the right time and after the seven-game scare from them in the 2011-12 playoffs, I don’t want any part of them.
5. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
That sound you hear is nothing. It’s silence. It’s every Islanders fan that chirped Rangers fans with the “Best Team in New York” title for the first four-plus months of the season with nothing left to say.
6. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Since 2007-08 everyone has been riding the Penguins and since then they have two Stanley Cup Final appearances (2007-08 and 2008-09) and one Cup (2008-09). There’s a good chance we are looking at a 30 for 30 in the future being made about how much of a disappointment the Sidney Crosby Penguins era was. Here is what the Penguins have done since winning the Cup in 2008-09.
2009-10: Blew 3-2 series lead in first round to Canadiens and lost Game 7 at home.
2010-11: Blew 3-1 series lead in first round to Lightning and lost 1-0 in Game 7 at home.
2011-12: Lost in first round in six games to Flyers and allowed 30 goals in the series.
2012-13: Swept in conference finals by Bruins and scored two goals in the series.
2013-14: Blew 3-1 series lead in second round to Rangers and lost Game 7 at home.
For the first time in the last eight years, no one seems to be backing or hyping or believing in the Penguins and that’s what makes them dangerous. They still have Sidney Crosby and they still have Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury is having the best year of his career. The Penguins are playing without any pressure with a new head coach/general manager regime and without everyone expecting them to play for and win the Cup and that might be the scariest thing of all.
7. DETROIT RED WINGS
Ryan Brandell of Barstool Sports Chicago has been telling me about the Red Wings all year on every podcast we have done. And because the Red Wings are sort of a mystery team because of their move to the East last year coupled with their abundance of injuries in 2013-14 and their first-round, five-game exit in the playoffs, I started to worry about them because I felt like I didn’t know enough about them and hadn’t seen enough of them and wondered how they were having such a remarkable season. But then I watched the Rangers go to Detroit without Henrik Lundqvist and thoroughly dominate the Red Wings for 60 minutes and lose 2-1 in overtime on a fluky goal.
Jimmy Howard was the only reason the Red Wings were even in the game and I would be willing to bet against him having that type of performance for an entire seven-game series because nothing he has done in his career to this point suggests he will. So unless Howard turns into 2002-03 Jean-Sebastien Giguere then I like the Rangers’ chances against the Red Wings.
8. WASHINGTON CAPITALS
The Rangers have played the Capitals since the first installment of these rankings. The game was on March 11 and the Rangers beat them 3-1 in Washington. It was a pretty easy win for the Rangers and despite the Capitals tying the game at 1 in the first period, it felt like the Rangers would win all along, and they did.
A series against the Capitals means the Rangers will play another series after it. Give me the Capitals.