Is the new NHL playoff system better or worse?

Philadelphia Flyers' Nicklas Grossmann, left, tries to keep

Philadelphia Flyers' Nicklas Grossmann, left, tries to keep the puck away from Rangers' Derek Dorsett during the first period Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Philadelphia. (Credit: AP / Matt Slocum)

Steve Zipay

Newsday columnist Steve Zipay Steve Zipay

Steve Zipay is an award-winning journalist who has covered events

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Sometimes, you need hypotheticals to make a case. Or to explain a complicated, uneven format like the revamped NHL playoffs, which emphasizes winning your division, not your standing in the conference.

Is that better than the former No. 1 Conference seed-plays-8, 2-plays-7 system?

Not necessarily.

Unless there's a major collapse by the Penguins and Bruins, who comfortably lead the Metro and Atlantic Divisions, each will play a conference wild-card team in the first round and have home-ice advantage in the first two rounds. The No. 2 and No. 3 teams in each division play each other, no matter where they finish in the conference.

What does that mean for the Rangers?

If the season had ended Saturday, first-round matchups in the East would be Rangers-Flyers (2-3 Metro); Canadiens-Maple Leafs (2-3 Atlantic), Bruins-Lightning and Penguins-Red Wings.

So the wild-card Wings cross over from the Atlantic and play the Metro-winning Penguins, and unless that's an upset, the second round is essentially for the division championships.

In a way, the Rangers are almost better off finishing 2-3 in a weak division, because a higher-ranked conference team could be one and done.

If the previous landscape were in place, the No. 1 Penguins would still play the No. 8 Wings, but the No. 2 Bruins would host the No. 7 Rangers; the No. 6 Flyers would play No. 3 Montreal and the No. 4 Leafs would play No. 5 Tampa.

One odd thing about the division-centric format is this: The Rangers have 18 games left, but only five Metro division games, where the points would mean more. Poor scheduling.

And there's one more twist: Thanks to realignment, in the West, there are only 14 teams, so the odds of making the cut (8 of 14, not 8 of 16) are more favorable. But any discussion of that particular inequality is for another day.

 

Patience is a virtue

On opening night, I'm swamped with e-mails and tweets and calls moaning about the roster. Relax, I remind them, it's fluid, there are changes all the time, let's see what it looks like in March.

So, to recap: The Rangers' active roster for opening night included: Martin Biron, Ryan Callahan (injured), Michael Del Zotto, Taylor Pyatt, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Arron Asham. None were on the 23-man roster listed for Friday's Hurricanes game.

The new faces: Cam Talbot, Martin St. Louis, Chris Kreider, Kevin Klein, Dan Carcillo and Raphael Diaz. Several of those are upgrades. Rosters expanded after the trade deadline and I suspect we will see Miller, definitely an NHL-caliber player, return at some point.

 

Hoarse for the course

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has been quite poised behind the bench but he was still a little hoarse Saturday after admitting to regularly shouting at referee Justin St. Pierre in French during Friday's 4-2 win over Carolina.

Asked to translate the coach's comments, center Derick Brassard shook his head and politely declined. "Oh, I don't want to go there," he said. "This time of year, the games are intense, the refs kind of let it go. We're all competitive, and our coaches have emotions, and that's sometimes why we're arguing with the calls."

That's the spirit!

Martin St. Louis has 84 career points against Carolina. How he has done against the rest of this week's opponents.

Team GP G-A-Pts.

Detroit 20 3-12-15

Minnesota 16 3-6-9

Winnipeg 34 27-55-82

San Jose 19 11-4-15

Heard and seen around . . .

If eventual contract discussions between Ryan Callahan and the Lightning go nowhere, the Sabres and Panthers are ready to offer the right wing a lucrative, long-term deal in July . . . With a victory over Detroit today, Henrik Lundqvist would collect his 300th win, just one behind Rangers career leader Mike Richter. . . Mats Zuccarello, who had a dynamic game in Friday's 4-2 comeback in Raleigh, N.C., was wearing a snazzy "Viva La Blueshirts" t-shirt after practice yesterday . . . Rangers president Glen Sather will be in Boca Raton for the NHL general managers' meetings Monday-to-Wednesday.

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