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Red-hot Rangers now lead the Eastern Conference

Dec 26, 2011, 10:12 PM EDT

rangershappy AP

When most people discuss the race for the Atlantic Division title, it’s often seen as a two-horse race between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The New York Rangers seemingly appeared satisfied with fighting their way to one of the East’s lower seeds the last few seasons, but 2011-12 might just be different. John Tortorella & Co. improved to the best record in the Eastern Conference* with a 3-0 win against the New York Islanders.

The (now second place) Boston Bruins have been the hottest team in the NHL since November, but the Rangers aren’t far behind in that category. Here’s what their streaks have looked like, including an Oct. 31 win:

Oct. 31-Nov. 15: 8-0-0
Nov. 19-23: 0-2-0
Nov. 25-Dec. 3: 5-0-0
Dec. 5-Dec. 8: 0-1-1
Dec. 10-Dec.15: 2-2-0
Dec. 17-Dec. 26: 5-0-0

Overall, the Rangers are an astounding 20-5-1 in their last 26 games.

Considering this hot run of games, it’s time to consider the Rangers a serious contender for the Atlantic Division title and perhaps the No. 1 seed in the East. They have arguably the best goalie in the NHL in Henrik Lundqvist, who registered a 28-save shutout. The Rangers play a hard-working style, perhaps best embodied by their heart-and-soul captain Ryan Callahan. The biggest difference might just be that they now have a truly elite scoring duo in Brad Richards and a revived Marian Gaborik, though.

Are the Rangers the best team in the Atlantic or even the East, then? Share your thoughts in the comments.

* – The Rangers now have 48 points (22-8-4), putting them one ahead of the idle Boston Bruins (23-9-1 for 47 points). New York is technically in front of the Chicago Blackhawks for first overall, but it looks like the ‘Hawks will re-gain that Presidents Trophy lead if they hang on against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday.

  1. hulkhogan69 - Dec 26, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    Richards has been okay but not really elite. Gaborik and Lundqvist have been as elite as it gets and Del Zotto, Girardi, McDonaugh, Stepan and Callahan have been really, really good.

  2. larrybiv - Dec 26, 2011 at 10:41 PM

    I’ll agree with Hulk, and add the addition of Haggy, before injury Sauer, and more recently the play of the 4th line . They’re slowly approaching the truest sense of the word……TEAM. Coach Torts is doing a great job keeping them even keeled and striving to be better and achieve more every game. Watch out NHL, the Rangers have arrived. LGR!

  3. larrybiv - Dec 26, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    @Slats Sather. Go ahead and get us just one more proven scorer/playmaker BEFORE the Flyers or Pens get someone like BobbyRyan or Getzlaf. Beat them to the punch, get Ryan !

  4. BurkieInBoston - Dec 26, 2011 at 11:59 PM

    Bruins are 6-0 in last 6 games and have fallen to 2nd place in East. Drag.

  5. hanktheking - Dec 27, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    How about Marty Biron too? Currently the best backup in the NHL if you go by win/loss record. The most important thing is that they have done it the right way since Torts became the coach: building through the draft and keeping their young guys. And then last offseason was huge: they retained every single key FA. Imagine what this team could be like when they get Stall back and Dubinsky starts playing like he’s capable of.

    • hulkhogan69 - Dec 27, 2011 at 2:07 AM

      I would go with Rask s the best back up. Biron hasbeen terrific but he’s de for serious regression that is unless you’re deluded and you expect him to put up a sub 2 g.a.a and a 930 save percentage.

      • elvispocomo - Dec 27, 2011 at 2:26 PM

        I’d argue Schneider has either beat. Elliot has been excellent as well in St. Louis for a ‘backup’.

  6. thomasborut - Dec 27, 2011 at 1:25 AM

    Best Ranger team since ’94. The exciting thing is the way the young kids are playing. We are without 3 of our best defensemen and you wouldn’t know it with one kid +25 and the other steady as a rock. Neither makes many mistakes. Also, the Michigan wing is a pleasure to watch. BUT we still need work on the power play. Get us one more scorer (???Ryan) and we are a genuine contender for Lord Stanley.

    • hulkhogan69 - Dec 27, 2011 at 2:14 AM

      PP has ben much better the last month or so

  7. stakex - Dec 27, 2011 at 2:51 AM

    Hmmm are the Rangers the best in the East? Tough call, and I say that as a Rangers fan. While the Rangers have been playing great, its hard to say they are better then Boston right now. If anything I would say Boston and the Rangers are about equal. They are both really well rounded teams that don’t really have a weakness. They both put up solid scoring without giving up much…. and I think it would be nearly impossible to pick one as the better team over the other.

    In the Atlantic the Rangers probably are the best team right now. The Flyers are playing very well obviously, but they are a bit more shakey on defense and in the net then the Rangers are. Not to mention when the two teams played eachother the Rangers dominated the Flyers… twice. Pittsburgh is still in the debate, but they have been hit or miss at times this year. Sure the argument could be made that Pit would be better without Crosby, but the Rangers and Flyers are also missing key players right now.

    No matter how you look at it though, one thing is perfectly clear: If things keep going like this the second half of the season will be crazy.

  8. bct11554 - Dec 27, 2011 at 7:33 AM

    The rangers can be the top team in the east. Remember this they are doing this without two of their top six dmen. How good will they be when they get them back?

  9. flyerscup2010 - Dec 27, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    given the amount of injuries the flyers and penguins have coupled with how streaky the rangers can be, i’d still say the bruins are #1 at this moment. the rangers are in for an averaging out period at some point and i still fully expect the capitals to flip the switch in the near future like the devils did last year. the race in the east is gonna be wild down the stretch, especially if one of these teams lands someone like bobby ryan…which i’m still not quite sold on actually happening just yet.

  10. ballistictrajectory - Dec 27, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    Congrats to the Blueshirts on their success. 4 games left in the series with NYR @ BOS for the first 2 and BOS @ NYR in Games of the Week on NBC in March and April. All kicked off by The Winter Classic against Philly. Sets up the potential for an old time hockey matchup for the Eastern Conference Final. B’s in 6.

  11. mtm1321 - Dec 27, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    It’s absolutely great to see the Blue-shirts out in front.

  12. danphipps01 - Dec 27, 2011 at 7:37 PM

    King Henrik’s being a titanic badass as per usual, but “arguably” is definitely the right word to put in front of “best.” Tim Thomas and Brian Elliot are tied for top save percentage, Tim’s got the third-best GAA, Elliot’s got the first there, and Henrik’s sitting third and fifth in percentage and GAA respectively, sixth in wins to Thomas’ third with Thomas having started three fewer games. Considering that the Rangers have been so thin defensively as to run only four defensemen for ENTIRE GAMES, there’s certainly debate to be had, but they’ve been playing spectacularly, so it’s not like they’re defensively weak. It’s hard for me to put anyone out in front of Thomas. Even Elliot, who hasn’t played as many games due to the early disaster of starting Halak. I’d put the King as second, no question, but first… well, until further notice, it’s Tim Thomas again.

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