It’s better to face the Capitals in the playoffs sooner rather than later

Bobby Bevilacqua

Stepan game 7 ot winner

Photo courtesy of Robert Sabo/New York Daily News

Outside of the Washington Capitals in first place, the Metropolitan Division is up for grabs, and the seeding of the team can still fluctuate and change. A few games ago, it looked like the Rangers would have the second seed locked up. But after two straight losses and late surges from the Penguins and Islanders, that’s not a guarantee anymore.

As it stands, the Rangers have about a 40% chance of finishing second in the division, a 39% chance of finishing third, and a 21% chance of getting the first Wild Card spot. So out of all three of those possibilities, which would be the most advantageous for the Rangers? What would give them the best chance of making another run in the playoffs?

Right off the bat, we can cross off the third place finish in the division. If you’re going to stay in the Metro for the first two rounds of the playoffs, you would like home ice for at least one of those rounds. So a third place finish wouldn’t be preferable.

A lot of people would actually like to see the Rangers slip into the first Wild Card spot. The reason being that the Rangers would make their way through the Atlantic Division instead of the Metropolitan. The argument can be made that the Capitals, Penguins and Islanders are better than the Panthers, Bruins and Lightning when looking at all three teams. So that might give them an easier path to the Conference Final.

Slipping into the wild card spot would also mean that the Rangers would be able to avoid the Capitals as long as possible, rather than possibly facing them in the second round. With Washington’s record and their incredibly deep lineup, putting off a series against them would be beneficial, right?

Maybe not. It may sound crazy, but I would rather take on the Capitals in the second round instead of the Conference Finals.

Despite adding pieces in the offseason, the Capitals team at their core is still largely the same group that has failed in the postseason ever since Alex Ovechkin joined the league. Ovechkin and the Caps have never advanced past the second round of the playoffs, with last year’s meltdown against the Rangers being the latest playoff debacle for the franchise.

I feel bad for whoever plays the Capitals in the first round, because I think Ovechkin and Co. will be energized and excited to make noise in the playoffs, and I don’t see them losing to the Flyers/Red Wings.

But once the second round rolls around, the pressure will be immense. The fans, the media, the experts, and just about everyone expects this team to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. Yet this team has failed to ever advance to the Conference Final with Ovi on their team. Adding Justin Williams might not be enough to offset the mentality that has seeped into the locker room when trying to close out series. Heck, they brought over TJ Oshie from the other perennial playoff disappointments, the St. Louis Blues.

Plus, if the Capitals had to play the Rangers in the second round, the pressure would climb to immense heights. They’d be expected to win, but in the back of their minds, you can bet that they’ll be thinking about Derek Stepan’s overtime winner in Game 7, marking a comeback after being down 3-1.

The road through the Atlantic as a Wild Card team would mean that the Rangers would not have home ice advantage at all. And this team’s road record (18-17-5) is considerably worse than their home record (25-8-4). The Panthers are a solid team, and the Bruins or Bolts would put up a good fight as well. It’s not going to be a walk in the park there, especially without home ice advantage.

I don’t want to face the Capitals in the Conference Finals. Assuming they make it there, the pressure of getting over the hump and finally advancing past the second round would be gone. The confidence would be at an all-time high, and they would be harder to beat at that point. Plus all of the players would be in a rhythm and accustomed to the postseason play. Definitely not a favorable matchup.

Call me crazy, but bring on the Caps earlier. The Rangers beat them last year, and there would be a better chance of Ovechkin and the team collapsing under the pressure as they face off against the team that handed them their most recent playoff meltdown.

The Rangers need to do everything in their power to finish second in the Metropolitan, get home ice advantage against the Penguins and try to take down the mighty Capitals before the Conference Finals

Posted on April 1, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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