New York, NY: If you’re looking to read about the Mets’ behaving like a functional baseball team or the Yankees’ power surge, hit the bricks. We’re sticking with hockey. The playoffs are about to start and nothing beats playoff hockey. The regular season was outstanding and several high powered teams are gearing up for battle. The New York Rangers aren’t one of them, but things are looking up for the Blueshirts. And with a little help in the playoffs, the outlook will improve even more. Here are some Rangers and other hockey observations as we head into the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning Rangers
Many Rangers’ fans will be pulling for the Lightning. Not just because it would be nice, although somewhat bittersweet, to see McDonagh, Callahan, Miller, Girardi, and Co hoist the Cup, but also because the Rangers will get another first round pick (they currently have two) if Tampa wins it all. Sure it would be the last pick in the first round, but still.
The Lightning won 62 games this year and piled up 128 points. Their goal differential was plus 103. The 76-77 Montreal Canadiens are considered the best team of the modern ERA. They lost only 8 of 80 games (only once at home), tallied a record 132 points, and outscored their opponents by an eye popping 216 goals, 387-171. Damn, son.
But the NHL has evolved. There were only 18 teams then including legendary franchises like the California Golden Seals and the Kansas City Scouts. In this salary cap era with 32 teams and a wealth of immensely talented players around the league, what Tampa Bay has accomplished might be more impressive, if they win the Cup. But it ain’t gonna be easy.
Waiting to ruin their season are the high flying Bruins and defending champion Capitals. The Penguins are always dangerous in the playoffs and the Maple Leafs have plenty of talent. And even the Blue Jackets, who went big at the trade deadline and got going in the nick of time, are going to be a tough first round out. And there is plenty of thunder out west should they make it to the finals.
Nikita Kucherov had a modern ERA record 128 points, including a whopping 87 assists. Captain Steven Stamkos and breakout star Brayden Point came close to triple digits in points as well. On the blue line they’re stacked, with Victor Hedman, McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev headlining. Vasilevskiy is a top tendy with a solid 2.40 GAA. With that offense, if he can hold the opposition to two and a half goals a game, they should be in good shape.
Barry Trotz deserves a ton a credit for the Islanders’ fantastic season in spite of losing Tavares. The Caps were crazy to let Trotz go.
The Isles did it with defense. They gave up the fewest goals in the league, but only ten teams scored fewer goals. The Isles only scored one more goal than the rebuilding Rangers. It’s hard to see this team scoring enough to do real damage in the playoffs. They’ll be a ton of pressure on their playoff-untested goalie tandem.
Other Teams To Consider Supporting
If the Dallas Stars win two rounds and Mats Zuccarrello plays in at least 50% of the games, the Rangers get yet another first round pick. If the Stars and Lightning both come through, the Rangers could end up with a whopping four first rounders, including a lottery pick that could turn into superstud Jack Hughes. And if they don’t win the lottery, they have plenty of draft capital to try to trade up and get one of the big studs anyway.
If you haven’t seen the Carolina Hurricanes’ post home win Storm Surge celebrations, stop what you’re doing a have a look. Revered Canadian hockey commentator Don Cherry called them “a bunch of jerks” for these celebrations. Ease up, Don.
This was a franchise that hadn’t made the playoffs in ten years and they don’t exactly play in a hockey hotbed. There is nothing wrong with having a little fun and getting the fans involved, says me. Please smash a hockey stick over my head if I turn into a bitter old jack@ss like Don Cherry.
I’m going to Nashville in the middle of May to play in a hockey tournament. If the Predators are going strong, I reckon the city will be rocking. So don’t be a jerk and root for the Preds to hang in there for a few rounds for me.
Of course the Rangers had to slightly lessen their odds of winning the lottery by picking up three points in their last two games against playoff teams. They have a 7.5-8% chance to get each of the first three picks. But let’s say the Stars and Lightning picks become first rounders. Unless they get lucky in the lottery, they will have the #6, 16, 23, 31, and 37 picks in the draft. Yahtzee! It’d be hard to screw that up. And with about $20 million in projected cap space, the ship could turn around quickly.
Another reason for optimism has been the play of young goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. The guy can stop a puck. And with Russian super prospect Igor Shestyorkin set to come over next year, the team is in good shape between the pipes. It’s a tragedy that The King will never have his name on the Cup, but the heirs might be in place.