Could a first round playoff exit actually help the New York Rangers long term? There’s an argument for and against going home early.

By Gregg Cambareri

The New York Rangers are bruised and battered, but many still believe they can make another deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After a hard fought split in Pittsburgh, momentum has returned home to Madison Square garden. Is it time to gear up for another deep run into the Spring, or is going home early not such a bad idea?

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, let’s consider something: A first round playoff loss wouldn’t be the end of the world. The Rangers are a team that has played more games than any other team in the league over the past few seasons. Maybe some extra rest bodes well looking towards next season?

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The Blueshirts ended last season with their top four defensemen playing with breaks, sprains, and contusions, yet almost returned to the Cup Finals. Now, they begin the playoffs with their two best defensemen banged up yet again. While Dan Giradi may return at some point, no one can be sure when Ryan McDonagh will, or how effective he’ll be.

So, maybe it’s time for the injury prone Rangers to bow out early, rest up, and get healthy for next season. The Los Angeles Kings sat out last spring, and rebounded with a solid 102 point season. Although they currently trail the Sharks two games to none, everyone knows they’re more than capable of bringing out the worst in perennial choke artists San Jose. Maybe it would benefit the Rangers not to rebuild, but just reload as they prepare to go all in next year, right?

It’s not that simple, and quite frankly, not an option. If the Rangers were to fall to the Penguins, some will rationalize that injuries were their undoing, the Pens were the hottest team in the league, and they wouldn’t beat Washington in the next round, anyways.

Blah, blah, blah.

On Tuesday night, you can bet the Garden is going to rock with chants of “We want the Cup!” before the first whistle. The goal for the Rangers over the past few years has been Stanley Cup or bust (unlike the Islanders, “just win a round and call it a season” mentality), and this year, the end goal shouldn’t be much different.

Injuries, games played, and the strength of the opposition are merely excuses, and ones that the Blueshirts won’t acknowledge. Playing to win down the stretch and not worrying about who your opponent may be, are signs of a team that is ready for a challenge. The Rangers know they can beat any team in the league, they know any team can top them, but their attitude seems to be, just take it one game at a time and see where you stand.

A first round exit won’t blow over well with the players, fans, or coaching staff. Henrik Lundqvist‘s career is almost as impressive as his sense of style, but still lacks a Stanley Cup victory. He isn’t getting younger, and the window for a championship closes as each year passes. You think Hank is content with going home after the first round?

Looking towards next season, GM Jeff Gorton has his work cut out for him. Keith Yandle is likely to leave in free agency and resolving Chris Kreider‘s contract situation will be a major offseason task. Trading two picks and a good prospect in Aleksi Saarela for a half season rental of Eric Staal means the time is now.

Find me one Ranger fan that thought the team would go the Stanley Cup finals prior to game 5 against Pittsburgh in 2014, and I’ll show you a liar. We can speculate, worry about injuries and the long arduous road to the finals, but it’s truly impossible to predict what lies ahead.

The New York Rangers have made the playoffs every season since the lockout, minus the 09-10 season. This is something that should not be taken for granted. We can’t assume the Rangers will be playing in the postseason next year.

A first round exit would not mean the end of the world. However, the New York Rangers didn’t show up to the party just to duck out early.

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Next: NBC’s Anti-Ranger Bias Is Astounding

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