Playoff time has finally dawned upon the National Hockey League, as 16 teams out of the 30 in the league begin a quest for the Stanley Cup. In just less than two months of all out hockey war, one team will remain standing-actually, skating – to hoist the Cup over their heads in jubilant, though exhausted, victory.
Sadly for Boston Nation, the Bruins will miss this opportunity for the second straight season, something that hasn’t happened in about a decade. This is certainly leaving the club with major questions, the biggest being what to do about its head coach, Claude Julien. Many people, including myself, are already thinking the man will lose his job over this season. I’m not saying he’s bad at the job, as he remains the winningest Boston Bruins coach by a large margin, but maybe not good for a young and developing team. Certainly missing the playoffs two years in a row is just not acceptable for a club that used to be of such high caliber with high playoff expectations every single season. Also up for review are Loui Eriksson, who now becomes an unrestricted free agent, and I think even our captain Zdeno Chara, whose age, along with the wear and tear he has suffered over the years, greatly detract from his value.
This week I wanted to focus on two Eastern Conference first round playoff matchups: in the Atlantic Division, it’s the No. 1 seed Florida Panthers vs. the first Wild Card New York Islanders; in the Metropolitan Division, No. 2 seed Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 3 seed New York Rangers. I think these pairs are interesting mostly because in the final regular season games to decide those pairings, the real weakness of the NHL playoff system became patently obvious.
Basically, because of the terrible division ranking system currently used by the NHL, it appears the Islanders took the chance to improve their chances in the first round by throwing their last regular season game, which resulted in a pairing against the Panthers instead of the Penguins. Even though the Panthers have fewer total points than the Penguins, under that terrible ranking system they technically sit higher in the standings, and so the first Wild Card team Isles, with one less regular season win, matched up with them. If the Islanders had won the game, they would have been forced to play the red-hot Penguins in the first round. Instead, it will be the Rangers up against the Penguins. The Rangers had an opportunity to use the same strategy as the Islanders, but gave every effort to win the last game and now face a seemingly more difficult opponent because of it. I caught up with my good friend and Rangers superfan, Ben Fortgang, and got his point of view on the situation.
“I mean, the Islander’s crowd was cheering for their team to lose,” Ben said.
“I’m really disappointed the Rangers didn’t do the same to be honest. I’m all about a winning attitude, but winning against Detroit could have honestly put the Rangers in a worse position to win the cup and AV’s (Alain Vigneault, Rangers head coach) job on the line.”
I think I might have to take a very similar view as my friend here. You do always want to see your team fight until the very end, giving 100 percent every minute.
But hey, you want to win a Stanley Cup, right? I do believe the Rangers would have had an easier matchup against the Panthers rather than the Penguins, and they had an opportunity to make that happen in their game Saturday. But they fought for the win, got it and now have the privilege of taking on a team on fire coming into the playoffs, which is quite a dangerous thing to attempt to control. Bottom line though? I still think the Rangers can pull out a win. I see a Rangers victory in Game 7, with their star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stealing a couple games for his club throughout the series.