NEW YORK, NY – We’re into April and that can only mean one thing! Yep… We’re inching closer to the… NHL Playoffs! The playoff teams are essentially set in the Eastern Conference. All that remains to be decided is the seeding. After their shutout win last night, the Rangers are solidly in second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Blueshirts are six points ahead of the Penguins in third place and just two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes atop the Metro.
Both the Rangers and Penguins have 10 games left and the Hurricanes have 11. It should be an interesting run-in to the playoffs. The team that finishes in first place will likely play the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. The second and third place teams will play each other in the opening round. In the current positions, the Rangers would have home ice against the Penguins. That looks like a good thing for NY, who have beaten the Penguins three times in the last few weeks.
Last night’s match-up was feisty but it was comprehensive shutout win for the Rangers. The Penguins were playing without Sidney Crosby, though. Sid missed the game due to illness and the Rangers took advantage. Igor Shesterkin looked like a Vezina winner again as he kept the Pens off of the score sheet. Panarin scored a stellar backhand goal that makes you wonder why he doesn’t shoot more often.
Defensively, last night’s game was a return to form for a team that has been shaky in their own zone since the trade deadline a couple of weeks ago. They had been very sloppy with the puck and it has led to the Rangers giving up a lot of goals. Not all the fault of Shesterkin. The Rangers have put him in bad positions with sloppy play. That dip in form could have been down to the new players adjusting to playing together. Last night the Rangers played a great game at both ends of the ice, albeit against an under-strength Penguins team. The Broadway Blues controlled play and even rose to the physicality, going toe-to-toe with the Penguins when things got chippy. They did so without tough-guy Ryan Reaves in the lineup. Reavo was a healthy scratch.
Tomorrow night the Ottawa Senators come to Madison Square Garden and the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. Then they head to Philly on Wednesday. They will need to keep collecting points to maintain their position and hopefully Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney will be back shortly. Both have been rumored to be coming back “any day now” for the last month. Kakko hasn’t played since January with his “upper body injury.” It would be good for him to get a few games in before the playoffs. That’s if he returns this season at all.
Speaking of returning, tune in tomorrow for Short Matt, coming back from the COVID-19 list.