Red-hot Rangers now lead the Eastern Conference

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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.