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The Rangers and rising to the occasion

New York Rangers defenseman Brian McCabe reacts after

New York Rangers defenseman Brian McCabe reacts after his slapshot found the net for a power-play goal with one-tenth of a second remaining in the first period. (April 3, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

Or, how it is that the Rangers can be 11-7-1 against the top four teams in the East, 5-9-2 against the Nos. 5-9 teams and 15-9-2 against the teams already eliminated from playoff contention (plus the Leafs, who could be out if the Rangers win Monday night)?

"I can't really explain it, other than to say we can't have that," Ryan Callahan told me after Sunday's 3-2 shootout win in Philly, the Rangers' second straight win over the Flyers after losing the first four meetings of the season. "We need to be ready to go every night, no matter who we're playing. But we do seem to have it when we're facing the top teams."

Since the halfway mark of the season, the Rangers have faced the top eight teams in the NHL 14 times. They are 9-4-1 in those games, including five straight wins over teams in the top of the league in points: The Flyers twice, the Sharks, Penguins and Bruins.

Pare it down to the top four in the East, among the Flyers, Pens, Caps and Bruins - one of whom will be the Rangers' playoff opponent, should the Rangers make it - and the Rangers are 7-2-1 in their last 10, with the only losses coming to the Flyers.

What does this mean? It means, I suppose, that Monday night's game is a daunting task, but no more so than Thursday's visit from the already eliminated Thrashers (Rangers are 1-2-0 against them) and, if it still matters, Saturday's visit from the Devils, who have won the last two meetings this season.

It also means that, as the Rangers' mantra has been all along this season, if they just get in, they'll be a tough out. They know how to play to frustrate the top teams in the East.

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