The Eastern Conference Belongs to the Rangers

Artem Anisimov's goal highlights conference clinching win

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Your Eastern Conference champions celebrate their achievement.

    The Rangers won the Eastern Conference on Tuesday night in Philadelphia and one of the big reasons that they did was a goal by Artem Anisimov that could serve as a shorthand for the way the Rangers have played all season.

    Anisimov took the puck into the Flyers' zone and drew a hooking penalty on Max Talbot, but he didn't slow down his rush in the face of a hit by the opposition. He drew another hooking penalty as he continued to the net, never lost the puck and fired the puck into the net just as Pavel Kubina's stick hit him in the face.

    There are players who better exemplify the Rangers' grinding style than Anisimov, but few single plays come to mind as better examples of why the Rangers clinched the Eastern Conference on Tuesday night. It was an absolute unwillingness to stop rolling toward the goal thanks to the ability to make everything about your performance instead of what the opposition was doing.

    The result was a 3-0 first period lead, three penalties on the Flyers and a two-man advantage that Ryan Callahan used to extend the Rangers' lead even further. The final would be 5-3, touching off a subdued celebration that honored the moment while also keeping an eye on the fact that the Rangers have many more miles to go before they sleep this season.

    If there's any downside to winning the conference, it's that the Rangers won't get a chance to play the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. Tuesday's win was their sixth in six tries against Philly this season and, as in the first five, Henrik Lundqvist was a big reason for the victory.

    Lundqvist has had some shaky moments in the last month, but he made 37 saves on Tuesday including many highlight reel stops when the game was still in doubt during the first period. There was a bit of a scare late when Lundqvist hurt his right forearm, but there's at least a week before the next meaningful game so he's got some time to heal.

    When the season started, it was hard to know if the Rangers' only chance to win games would come on nights like the one Lundqvist had on Tuesday. That's the way things were far too often in the last few years and that's why they were annually playing for a playoff spot in the last days of the regular season.

    They aren't that team anymore, something that was clearly in evidence on Tuesday night as five different players scored goals and the entire roster pushed the Flyers around in the early going.

    They built from within, added a few touches from outside the organization and let John Tortorella mold the whole group into winners.

    They are the Eastern Conference champions for the first time since 1994 and it's gonna be fun to see where things go from here.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.