Although the majority of playoff spots have been assigned to certain teams since the All Star Break (at least, in our heads), no one team had officially clinched a playoff berth yet — but on Thursday night, their 5-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators made the New York Rangers the first team in the NHL to be guaranteed a playoff position.
The Rangers were the league darlings when they miraculously pushed their way through to the Stanley Cup Final last season; although they had bargained for veteran forward Martin St. Louis with the playoffs in mind specifically, their magical post-season run seemed to defy all the odds.
This season, though, they’ve gone all in — so seeing them secure the first guaranteed playoff berth isn’t all that shocking.
In addition to St. Louis, the Rangers have benefitted from yet another stellar season of offense out of tiny Norwegian phenom Mats Zuccarello; add in the immense forward depth the team seems to have and the wild, crash-and-bang style brought by Chris Kreider, and the team’s offensive corps are a perfect balance of skill and energy.
On defense, they’ve supplemented a strong defensive positioning group with the missing power play quarterback they’d coveted for ages; shipping out yet another first round pick, a second round pick, defenseman John Moore and prospect Anthony Duclair, the Rangers managed to bring in puck mover Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes. Henrik Lundqvist has been backed by the superb play of Cam Talbot in net, and the team as a whole has become quietly dominant.
With 101 points, the Rangers are the only team currently guaranteed to see the post-season, although they’ll likely be followed shortly by the Anaheim Ducks (who also have 101 points), the Montreal Canadiens (who have 100) and the Nashville Predators (also in the century club). Beyond that, things start to get a little shaky; what had seemed like a fairly cut-and-dry playoff race has become muddled by some mid-season resurgences and a few lengthy collapses. At this point, the playoffs are nearly anyone’s game.
For now, though, the Rangers can sleep easy; if they’ve done anything this year, it’s been their impressive push into yet another post-season appearance.