The Rangers and Penguins are seemingly locked in what will be an epic battle for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The Rangers currently lead the Penguins by a single point, both with seven games remaining in the season. While many are panicking about how the Penguins could catch up so quickly (more on that in a second), the Rangers have two distinct advantages in this race.
First, the Rangers have more points than the Penguins, which means they still control their own destiny. As long as the Rangers win, the Penguins can’t catch up. Each time the Rangers win, the magic number is deducted by two. Each time the Penguins lose, the magic number is deducted by two. With three very winnable games coming up, the magic number could feasibly be seven by the end of the month. If the Rangers win at Pittsburgh in April, that’s a four point swing in the magic number.
Second, the Rangers lead the first tiebreaker –regulation and overtime wins– 43-38, and it is unlikely that the Penguins catch up. To be honest, if they catch up in ROW, then they are likely passing the Rangers in standings anyway, because it would mean the Rangers aren’t winning games. Since the Rangers hold the first tiebreaker, the Penguins must finish ahead of the Rangers in points to take the division.
But more on those Penguins for a moment. Let’s remember that they went on a tear recently, and have won 14 of the past 16 games they’ve played. The only thing the Rangers could have done to prevent them from catching up was cutting the brakes on their bus. There has been no stopping the now healthy Penguins, who have finally progressed back to the mean in terms of team expectations. The Penguins were expected to be a 100 point team by the end of March, but yet people seem surprised that they reached that number.
Boston went undefeated in November, Pittsburgh went close to undefeated in March. The only difference is the timing. It is not possible for the Penguins to continue winning games at this rate, especially come playoff time. The Rangers are still in first place, and now these games mean something. Did you really want them coasting into the playoffs?