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Hartnett: Rangers Separating Themselves From Rival Flyers

'Hart Off The Ice'
By Sean Hartnett
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The New York Rangers showed a national television audience and 46,967 in attendance at Citizens Bank Park what fans in New York have known for quite some time.

It may be a bitter pill for Philadelphia fans to swallow but the Rangers are simply a better all-around hockey team than the Flyers.

Right now, the Rangers' four-point division lead isn't a huge amount of distance in the standings but there is a widening gulf between the teams on ice.

The 2012 Winter Classic was Philadelphia's big chance to make their statement and prove they can hang with the Rangers but that clearly wasn't the case on Monday.  Precisely when the Flyers thought they were on their way to victory, they allowed complacency seep into their game.  Claude Giroux gave the Flyers a two-goal advantage at 14:21 in the second period but just thirty seconds later, Michael Rupp's snap-shot goal shifted momentum in the Rangers' direction.

Giroux later told reporters after the game, "When you've got a two-nothing lead, I think the four lines are rolling and everybody's had one or two good shifts, you've got that two-nothing lead and kind of had that feeling we're playing the kind of hockey that we play when we win games.  In the third period, I don't think we played our game.  It was an important two points but we've got to move on."

Complacency is exactly what's wrong with the Flyers.  They aren't finishing off games.  This isn't meant to be an indictment on Giroux, whose NHL-leading 46 points has helped carry Philadelphia in the absence of captain Chris Pronger but rather a Flyers' team that lacks the relentless qualities shown by the Rangers.

These qualities are a result of what's been drummed into them by head coach John Tortorella.  The Rangers don't let up and rarely take anything for granted.  Critics of Tortorella have always pointed to his over-intense nature with players as a 'weak point' of his coaching makeup but it's something that is producing a winning mentality from top-to-bottom on the Blueshirts' roster.

The Rangers simply know how to go about their business on the ice and captain Ryan Callahan is a prime example of Tortorella's ethics.  It is often said that an effect of a good coach is seen when his trademarks are transmitted through his captain.  Callahan never appears to be over-awed by the moment and relayed to his teammates the importance of getting the job done at the Winter Classic.

"We've got this outdoor game but we're still battling for the division lead and conference lead with these guys.  As soon as that puck dropped, I felt like we had to win and it was a serious game," he said post-game.

Intimidation and physicality has always been the hallmark of the Philadelphia Flyers.  Whether or not they get the result on the scoreboard, the Flyers rarely get beaten in physical battles.

Outside of Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds, there weren't a whole lot of Flyers making themselves noticed in the checking game.  The absence of Pronger is looming large in that area.

The 91 hits on Monday set a Winter Classic record.  The Rangers out-checked the Flyers 50-41 with Callahan, Brandon Prust and Brandon Dubinsky throwing their weight around all game.  Outside of Dubinsky, none of the said players are over 200 pounds but they all hit larger than their size.

Sadly, it's also the same old story between the pipes for Philadelphia.  You would think that signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year $51 million dollar contract would have finally solved the Flyers' long-term problem in net but he hasn't been anywhere near the standard they expected.

His 3.01 goals against average and a diminished .890 save percentage prove that point.  Flyers' head coach Peter Laviolette felt more confident starting back-up Sergei Bobrovsky in the Winter Classic and if Philadelphia hopes to win the Atlantic Division, they must get Bryzgalov back on track.

Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist continues to shine and raises his play when needed for Rangers.  This sounds like a broken record but he constantly makes series of important late-game saves and the Winter Classic was no different.  There were about four or five key saves made by Lundqvist in the third period but none more important than his denial of Danny Briere's penalty shot with 19 seconds remaining.

Goaltending, physicality and mentality… the Rangers are winning in these areas and are of course ahead in the standings.  They're leading the Eastern Conference with 52 points which also ties them for best overall in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks.

It's up to the Flyers to find a way to close the gap but right now, that doesn't seem likely as the Rangers appear to be a class apart.

Rangers fans – how superior is your team to the Flyers?  Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.

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