Originally written on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 2/6/12

Remember long ago when, as fans, we would have to worry when our New York Rangers were scheduled to go up against a division opponent? Remember long ago when we assumed an automatic loss would go down each night the Blueshirts had to go up against the Philadelphia Flyers or Pittsburgh Penguins? Well times have changed big time over the course of the past year, as the Rangers are no longer the underdogs in these divisional match-ups. In fact, they are quite the opposite; the are the top dogs heading into these games, an that's been key in their success this season even though it may be flying under the radar at the moment. 

After Sunday afternoon's 5-2 win over the Philly Flyers, the Rangers improved to 10-2-1 against Atlantic Division teams this season. Their only losses were against the Devils last week, the Penguins earlier in the month, and the Islanders way back in the third game of the season during October. Aside from those three games, the Rangers have defeated the Islanders three times this season, the Flyers four times, the Penguins twice and the Devils once. If that's not pure domination of a division then I honestly do not know what is. Their biggest foes cannot stop them, and to me that says a lot about this hockey club. 

Looking at the standings, the Flyers are the closest to the Rangers in the Atlantic with 66 points. Still, though, that is five points behind the Blueshirts with 71. As long as the Rangers maintain that distance between themselves and Philly, or whoever else is willing to fight for that second place spot, they are guaranteed a top three spot in the Eastern Conference going into the playoffs. Now you are starting to see why division games have always been deemed the most important since the lockout, especially following the All-Star break when the stakes are much higher every night.

I mean, it's pretty simple; the Rangers will continue to fly high as long as they continue to dominate their division, and in my opinion, the Flyers are their biggest threat, yet the Rangers are 4-0-0 against them this season. 

What I think has made the Rangers so successful against their division this season is their mentality. Beginning with head coach John Tortorella, nothing can sway the emotions of this hockey team. Every game carries the same amount of importance and the team prepares for every opponent in the same manner. Many clubs change their approach when they go up against their biggest rivals, and that could be for the better or for the worse at the end of the day; more often than not it is for the worse. The Rangers stay strong to their gameplan, however, and do not make any major adjustments based on the opposition. Basically, they'll play the Penguins the same way they play the Florida Panthers. There's no difference to them. 

Now you can argue that the team is a little more excited to play certain teams as opposed to others, and I cannot argue with you there. However, as far as strategy and approach go, nothing changes based on the opponent, and I give Tortorella a lot of credit for that. You constantly hear him shooting down any hoopla the media creates surrounding a game, and that is for the sole purpose of not letting his team lose control of their emotions. It's a clever tactic to be honest. 

And we all know that the Rangers are not the most skilled squad taking the ice out there by any stretch, so consistency and focus are two main components to their game when they wish to be successful. Letting their emotions get the best of them will take attention away from those details and result in some ugly performances - the coach does his very best to prevent exactly that. 

All in all, though, the Rangers' domination of the Atlantic Division is key to their playoff hopes this season. 10-2-0 against the division in the third quarter of the season is remarkable, but they can't afford to slip up in the final months. In my eyes, if they can keep that win to loss ratio against division teams anywhere close to what it is now, there's no doubt in my mind that the Rangers will have home ice advantage come playoff time. No doubt whatsoever. 

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