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Hartnett: Rangers Will Not Be Bullied, Focused On Finishing Strong

'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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Last season, the Rangers had to wait until the final day of the season and needed a little luck to secure their place in the 2011 NHL playoffs.

This season is a completely different story. The Rangers have punched their ticket into 2012 NHL playoffs with 10 games to spare but these next 10 games will be crucial in determining whether the Rangers can hold onto home-ice advantage.

On Monday night, the Devils brought the pressure immediately and tried to throw the Rangers off their game by sending three fighters onto the ice.  The Rangers were more than ready and stood up to the Devils' intensity all evening and secured a 4-2 victory.

3/19/12: Rangers, Devils with three fights off opening faceoff by CBSEyeOnHockey on YouTube

"I've never seen anything like it.  We were pretty fired up going out when Torts saw their starting lineup.  We knew what was coming and it set the tone for this game.  I think the guys really stepped up and did a good job there right away," Henrik Lundqvist revealed post-game.

The high-intensity seen on Monday night is a sign of things to come according to Brian Boyle.

"It was a pretty intense game and they're going to keep getting like that.  We expect more of those.  It's going to keep getting more and more intense.  That's what it's going to be like, that's the (kind of) hockey we're going to be playing," Boyle stated.

Keeping hold of first place won't be an easy task as the full-strength Pittsburgh Penguins are just 3 points behind the Blueshirts with a game in hand. The Rangers will be pushed harder than they've even been pushed this season and their character will be tested in the battle to remain first overall in the Eastern Conference.

"It was great there for a bit when we had an eight, ten point lead but obviously we knew it wasn't going to be like that for the whole rest of the season.  To get that win tonight and create a little but of space is nice," Dan Girardi explained post-game.

Girardi continued, "If we just win our games, we'll be fine.  We can't worry about what other teams are doing.  Our division is so  tight, a team gets on a roll like Pittsburgh... they're coming.  So, if we just win our games and worry about ourselves, we'll be fine."

Right around the corner is a challenging match-up with the Detroit Red Wings, a deeply-talented team who once led the Western Conference but have fallen on hard times.

The Red Wings have gone 3-6-1 over their last ten games but have the quality and speed that allows them to dominate any opponent on any given night.

Lundqvist spoke about finishing the season strongly.  "It's been a good year so far, but we have to play these ten games.  They mean a lot to us and we want to get better as a team.  We can't afford not to be ready.  The last ten here, we need to push ourselves really hard," Lundqvist stated.

Besides the Red Wings, the Rangers will be pitted against playoff-chasers such as the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets. If the Rangers can keep pace through their six games, their mettle will be tester further by an unforgiving final four dates against the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Brandon Dubinsky spoke about the challenge ahead.  "We found a way to get a playoff spot.  So, we're looking forward to fine-tuning ourselves throughout these last ten games and be going into the playoffs firing on all cylinders," he said.

Dubinsky continued, "We're not going to relax one bit.  Our goal was never to just make the playoffs this year.  Our goal was to get home-ice advantage, to put ourselves in a great spot going into the playoffs."

"We know that there's only ten games, so we've got to be playing our best hockey throughout these last ten games and into the playoffs.  If we do that, we give ourselves not only a good seed but a good opportunity with a head of steam going into the playoffs to do some damage," he concluded.

If the Rangers are to finish first overall in the Eastern Conference, they will have done so the hard way. John Tortorella's approach has always been not to look beyond their next opponent.  That mentality could be an advantage in the closing games of the season.

"We want to win because we worry about us.  We want to get as many points as we can.  It's not really necessary to look at those teams.  We just gotta win and play the way we need to play," Boyle relayed.

The players inside the Rangers' locker room certainly aren't getting ahead of themselves and are focused on the task at hand, night after night. It may sound cliched, but this kind of mentality has gotten the Rangers where they are through 72 games.

Holding onto that belief could prove to be the difference between the Blueshirts securing the top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference or the disappointment losing home-ice advantage.

Do the Rangers have the talent and mentality to finish first overall in the East?  Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.

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