Rangers ahead of last season's pace

New York Rangers center Artem Anisimov (42) reacts

New York Rangers center Artem Anisimov (42) reacts after scoring a second period goal against Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) at Madison Square Garden. (Feb. 13, 2011) (Credit: Christopher Pasatieri)

Last season at this time, the Rangers were in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, three points out of the final playoff spot with a record of 27-27-7.

This year's edition of the Blueshirts, far younger and more tenacious, are 31-25-4, five points ahead of last season's pace and in seventh place, three points behind Montreal.

"It feels different," said center Artem Anisimov, in his second full season in New York. "We're chasing teams ahead of us, instead of looking at the teams we have to catch. But with 22 games left, each game is still like a playoff game. Everybody wants to make the playoffs after missing last year."

The road is far from secure. Carolina is in eighth place, two points behind the Rangers, and Buffalo and Atlanta are not far behind (both teams, behind the playoff line, trail the Rangers by just six points). The Rangers face the East-leading Philadelphia Flyers, who have won all three previous matches this season, at the Garden this afternoon.

"We're in a different role because we are looking ahead," said coach John Tortorella. "We're right in the hunt, right where we want to be as far as seeing what we are as a hockey club . . . Players look at standings. I do, but it can't control you. Come to work the next day and try to improve, one game at a time. It may not be good for 25 minutes, it may be great for 40 minutes and lousy for 20: Just don't lose the hockey game, and handle the momentum swings."

Henrik Lundqvist has started four straight, but Tortorella declined to name his goaltender for today's matinee. Defenseman Steve Eminger will be a healthy scratch for the seventh time in eight games.

Notes & quotes: Ruslan Fedotenko, who practiced in full gear for the first time, is a week to 10 days away from returning after a separated shoulder and an appendectomy, Tortorella said. The earliest that the winger would be back is next Sunday against the Lightning at the Garden . . . D Sheldon Souray, 34, who was placed on AHL recall waivers by the Oilers Saturday, cannot be claimed until noon Monday. Thirteen teams with fewer points than the Rangers will have first dibs on Souray, who, reports say, has slowed, and will be owed $2.7 million next season from whoever claims him . . . The Flyers are expected to start Brian Boucher in net and are likely without former Ranger Blair Betts, who is injured. C Mike Richards (flu) is expected back.

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