Handicapping Rangers Playoff Chances

With less than half a season remaining, the NHL’s Metropolitan Division will be a slugfest among eight teams for what will almost certainly be five playoff berths.

The automatic bids will go to the division’s top-3 teams and the two Eastern Conference Wild Card berths will likely come out of the Metropolitan Division.

This is what the NHL has become. It’s a boiling pot of parity due to the salary cap that makes it impossible to keep a great team together and the standings-packing, three-point games we see every night.

So it’s a good time to take stock, or handicap, the Metro.

RANGERS

I picked them to finish third in the division, even in a “rebuilding” year, and still believe they can. But they’ll need to find more consistency, and not rely so much on their overtaxed goaltenders.

Then there’s this for the team that was the NHL’s best on the road last season: By late next week, the Rangers will have 36 games remaining and 23 of those will be on the road as they go on a four-game Western trip before the All-Star Game.

I think they have enough to make the playoffs, though there’s a chance the rebuilding may continue and they’re selling assets, not buying, at the trade deadline.

PENGUINS

Is this now enough evidence? Chicago played 11 playoff series in three years, then lost in the first round two years running. Los Angeles played 11 series in three years, then missed the playoffs, followed by a first-round loss. The Rangers played 12 series in four years, then lost in the first round.

So the question is: Are the Penguins paying that price for the grueling run of two straight Stanley Cups? They certainly have enough talent, though they suffered some cap casualties and I think they’ll be in the playoffs, maybe as the favorite again.

CAPITALS

Speaking of Cap casualties, Washington had some of its roster stripped, but despite an up-and-down start, has leaped to the head of the class – again. I’m not saying the Capitals can win the Cup, but they’ll be in the playoffs.

BLUE JACKETS

Probably the heaviest Metro member has more speed and skill now, plus an all-world goalie and a coach who gets players to run through walls … until they don’t want to anymore. I’m not as high on the Jackets as most people. But they’re a playoff team.

DEVILS

They are for real with all that new speed and skill. That said, I think the Devils are due for a dip, a market correction at some point. It’s inevitable, right? So it will be a matter of how they react when that dip arrives and how much they can limit whatever slumps arise.

ISLANDERS

Their defensive play and goaltending just haven’t been good enough yet. Two years ago, the Isles won their first playoff series since 1993. Then they failed to qualify last season. I’d put them outside the bubble right now.

FLYERS AND HURRICANES

Sorry, I don’t see either team making a real challenge, though the shootout win and the losers’ point will keep them both mathematically in the picture. The Flyers are inconsistent and the Hurricanes just aren’t talented or deep enough in my opinion.

So here’s how I think it will shake out when the season closes the first weekend of April:

1. Washington.
2. Pittsburgh.
3. Rangers.
Wild Card 1. Columbus.
Wild Card 2. Devils.
Miss the playoffs: Islanders, Philadelphia and Carolina.

[Watch Rangers-Islanders Saturday on MSG & MSG GO]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.