One look at the current standings and you can see that the Rangers will once again be in a dog fight for one of the final few playoff spots.
If you need a reminder of the new playoff format, in each conference the top three teams in both divisions make the playoffs (6), then the two remaining teams with the most amount of points regardless of their division will fillout the final two spots as the wild card teams.
Further review of the standings shows that Columbus, Philadelphia, Washington and Detroit seem to be the Rangers biggest obstacles in making the playoffs. All but Washington have two games in hand on the Blueshirts, while the Flyers maintain a slim one point lead.
Because Detroit is in the Atlantic Division they can only knock the Rangers out of the wild card race.
A big influence on how these teams will finish is obviously their strength of schedule down the stretch. So let’s take a look…
New York Rangers:
…if the Rangers want to make a move it’s going to have to happen over the next week when they go head-to-head against some of their biggest postseason competition as they’ll face Ottawa, Columbus, New Jersey and Philadelphia. They need to take at minimum six of eight points before I entertain the notion that they have a legit chance of making the playoffs. Have to assume it’s going to come down to the final game of the season for the Rangers, which of course has to be in their “House of Horrors” otherwise known as the Bell Centre in Montreal.
…while the Rangers have a chance to make a move this next week, the Flyers will just look to survive as they’ll play Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis and the Kings. Luckily for the Flyers all four of those games will be on home ice. Philadelphia also has a second game vs. the Blues in April as well as remaining match-ups against the Bruins and Penguins. Not an easy schedule at all.
Columbus Blue Jackets:
…similar to the Rangers, the Blue Jackets have a good chance to put some distance between themselves and their biggest competition with head-to-head matchups the next 10 days. Ending the season on a three game road trip won’t be easy.
…wow, and I thought the next week was going to be brutal for the Flyers. West coast trip through Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles followed by home games against Kings and Bruins. Good luck with all that.
Detroit Red Wings:
…nothing too terrible or favorable. Two games against both Penguins and Canadiens will be tough along with April 2nd contest vs. Bruins. Not an easy way to finish the season in St. Louis.
It looks like these five teams will be fighting for three playoff spots with the Flyers and Capitals having far and away the most difficult schedules.
Other teams that have a chance of muddying the waters even more are the Devils, who, led by Jaromir Jagr, have been on a roll and either Montreal, Tampa Bay or Toronto if they were to fall apart in the division and need the wild card to qualify.