The Rangers Are Just Waiting for Their Opponent

The Panthers, Capitals, Senators and Sabres are all possibilities

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Apr 12, 2012  |  Updated 1:12 PM EDT
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Another Rangers-Capitals first round series might not be a bad thing.

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There's not much reason to watch the final two games of the Rangers' regular season.

The only compelling plotline is whether or not anyone from the Rangers gets hurt and, honestly, would you really want to see that happen? If that should occur, it's far better just to hear about it secondhand so that you can remain ignorant of how bad it might have looked or how dejected the rest of the team got when the player left the game.

Watching other games still has some value, though. The fight for the eighth playoff spot will come right down to the wire and it wouldn't be a bad idea to do a little scouting ahead of the first round matchup.

Thursday night brings a game between the Panthers and Capitals that could eliminate the Panthers from the mix of possible playoff opponents. They lead the Caps by four points in the race for the Southeast Division title, so anything other than a regulation win for Washington will give the Panthers the division.

Root for the Capitals. The Panthers are only in position to win the division because the NHL rewards overtime losers with a point. 

The Panthers have 18 overtime/shootout losses this year, the most of any playoff team by a wide margin. Beyond that, they've been outscored by 25 goals over the course of the season and they've scored the sixth-fewest goals in the entire league.

That's not the likely outcome. There's also not much chance that they'll wind up facing the Senators, who also need just one point or one Caps loss to lock down seventh place. 

That leaves the Capitals and Sabres. Both teams have also been outscored by the opposition this season, but they offer some reasons to fear them.

After several years near or at the top of the Eastern Conference, everyone has been waiting for the Capitals to find their game this season and it just hasn't happened. There's too much talent (Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin) and experience (two playoff losses to Caps in last three years) not to worry about a seven-game series with Washington.

Buffalo has Ryan Miller and there's no surer way to let a playoff series slip away than facing a hot goaltender. On top of that, the Sabres have been surging of late with six wins in their last eight games making them a team that might be peaking at the right moment. 

The Rangers beat the Sabres three of four times this season, with one win apiece coming via overtime and shootout. They've beaten the Caps in two of three games with the season finale on Sunday still to come.

If that game forces the Rangers to decide whether or not to put up 100 percent fight, we'd probably opt for letting the Capitals make their way to the postseason. Their goaltending isn't nearly as good as Buffalo's and, frankly, scorers like Ovechkin aren't all that scary to a Rangers team constructed the way this one has been built. 

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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