Igor Shesterkin Rangers
Dennis Schneidler | USA TODAY Sports

A wise man once said we don’t do regular season hockey around here. But we’ll make an exception.

The playoff-bound Rangers have five games left, starting with Thursday night’s matchup with the Islanders at UBS Arena. They enter the night tied with the Hurricanes atop the Metropolitan Division with 106 points, so this is a big one aside from the rivalry. Carolina currently holds the tiebreaker, which is regulation victories.

The Rangers host the Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden next Tuesday. But Carolina has two games left with the Devils and one game against the Isles (both eliminated from postseason contention) and one against the Jets, who are fighting for a spot in the Western Conference. The Rangers have three playoff teams left on the schedule (Carolina, at Boston and Washington) plus the Isles and cellar-dwelling Canadiens.

The eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in, but the actual first-round matchups remain unsettled. If the tournament started today, the Rangers would get the Penguins in the first round. But they could also end up with the Bruins — who doesn’t love an Original Six matchup? — or the reigning Stanley Cup champion Lightning based on how everything plays out over the next two weeks.

The field as of now via ESPN:

  • Panthers (A1) vs. Capitals (WC2)
  • Maple Leafs (A2) vs. Lightning (A3)
  • Hurricanes (M1) vs. Bruins (WC1)
  • Rangers (M2) vs. Penguins (M3)

How much better would all of this be if the Hurricanes were still the Whalers? We have to accept Gary Bettman’s dumb Sun Belt expansion efforts, but not losing the Whale. Brass Bonanza forever.

Anyway, the NHL is basically college basketball at this point. The regular season is boring and way too long, but the postseason product is tremendous. And while the Islanders’ recent runs were enjoyable, nothing beats the Rangers being in the mix and the Garden rocking. Get Joe Micheletti on the phone.

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.