With the New York Rangers facing nearly a one week playoff vacation, our attention can turn to what is on the horizon for the Blueshirts in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  According to Sam Weinman on his Journal News Blog, the NHL has blocked off the April 25 through May 9 as the next set of playoff dates.  The longer the Quarterfinals go, the longer the Rangers layoff.

The Rangers are in a Catch-22 situation.  Teams can always use extra time off at this time of the year to heal up major injuries and the usual bumps and bruises that accumulate during the NHL’s regular season.  That is balanced off by the fact that teams are not accustomed to having as much as a week off in between games.  It will be up to the Rangers’ coaching staff to keep the players sharp, but rested.

The only two remaining playoff teams the Rangers can’t face in the Eastern Conference Semifinals are the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.  The three remaining teams present their own problems.

The Tampa Bay Lightning split the season series with the Rangers.  The Blueshirts sandwiched 4-1 and 5-0 victories around 4-3 and 3-2 losses to the Lightning.  The 4-3 loss is rather memorable because the Rangers blew a three goal lead as Tampa Bay scored four unanswered goals in the third period.

The Rangers went 1-3 against the Ottawa Senators, but it wasn’t as bad as that record might indicate.  One of the losses was a 1-0 shutout and another was a 3-2 loss that saw the Rangers blow another two-goal lead.  The Rangers also dropped a 6-4 decision to the Senators in game where the Blueshirts fell behind 5-0 before rallying to draw within one goal.

As for the series with the Buffalo Sabres, yes the Rangers were swept by the Eastern Conference champions.  However, that record is also deceiving.  Of the four games, Kevin Weekes started three of them.  The Rangers lost their first game to Buffalo by a

7-4 score as the Rangers blew a two-goal lead in game where the Sabres scored five unanswered goals.  The next game was a 4-3 Overtime loss with Weekes in goal again as the Rangers failed to protect a 3-1 lead.  The third game featured Henrik Lundqvist’s only start against Buffalo.  The Rangers dropped a 3-2 Overtime decision as this time the Rangers rallied from a two-goal deficit.  The Rangers final meeting with the Sabres was a 4-3 Shootout loss with Weekes in goal as the Rangers again blew a 3-1 lead.

My preference would be for the Rangers to play the Lightning.  Granted they are only a couple of years removed from their Stanley Cup championship and feature the offensive talents of Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis.  However, there are many questions about their goaltending with Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis between the pipes.  It will remain to be seen if they can rebound from their Game 4 Overtime loss to the Devils.

As for the choice between Buffalo and Ottawa, it is not such an easy decision.  Yes, the Sabres are on the verge of finishing off the Islanders, but they have had to struggle far too much given their regular season success.

Some people see Ottawa as the tougher opponent after the way they dusted off the Pittsburgh Penguins.  However, the talented Penguins are still a relatively young team in respective to the playoff wars and their best years are ahead of them.  Despite Ray Emery’s play against the Penguins, he is inconsistent at best.  While Ryan Miller hasn’t set the world on fire, I believe he is more capable of being the steadier of the two goaltenders.  In addition, the Senators still have some playoff ghosts of their own they need to exorcise.  As a result, I would prefer to play the Senators as opposed to the Sabres.

As a Ranger fan, there is a bonus to playing the Senators.  If the Blueshirts do play Ottawa then it means that Tampa Bay eliminated the Devils.

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