With the regular season winding up tonight, the Rangers’ first round opponent might be within their power to control. Tonight’s match-up against the Washington Capitals, is one of two games that will determine whether it’s the Penguins or Capitals who will meet New York next week.
The Penguins have the most control, with a point lead on the Capitals and the tiebreaker (Regulation+OT Wins) over the Capitals. A win, or even an OT/Shootout loss will be enough to secure the third spot int he Metropolitan Division and have them travel to New York next week.
Even if the Penguins lose, the Rangers could still help them out by beating the Capitals. In fact if the Rangers win tonight (no matter the method), then it would also lead to a match-up between the Rangers and Penguins.
If however the Penguins lose in regulation, and the Capitals were to beat the Rangers, then the Rangers would host Washington next week.
You’d expect both the Penguins and Capitals would prefer to play the inexperienced Rangers, than the President Trophy winning Florida Panthers, so you’d expect both teams to do their best tonight to secure that third spot, but who would the Rangers prefer.
Based on today’s practice lines, it would appear that the Rangers might prefer to play the Penguins. After giving the night off to several of their starters Wednesday, Gallant appears set to go with the strongest line-up he has available to him with the exception of Alexandar Georgiev in net. It also takes into account that the team is perhaps trying to give Andrew Copp and Artemi Panarin as much time off as possible to recover from injuries suffered in the loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday.
For the Capitals who have are 1-2-2 in their last five, it’s their last chance to have a chance to control their destiny, and they may have to do it without Alexander Ovechkin who has been out the last two games, both losses to the Isles.
With Georgiev projected to be in net, it’s not a full commitment to making sure the team ends on a winning note, but with three straight losses and a chance to close out the season by perhaps taking advantage of the injury to goaltender Tristan Jarry, and a team that is 18-15-6 over their last 39 games.
It does at least add a level of interest to this final regular season game, in what would otherwise be just another one to get through without suffering an injury. Perhaps that’s the biggest reason why Georgiev is likely to start, because without Shesterkin, the Rangers would be long odds to go anywhere in the playoffs.