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The Rangers Could Be in Fourth Place on Wednesday

The Rangers enter Tuesday night one point ahead of the Penguins

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Mar 29, 2012  |  Updated 11:38 AM EDT
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The Rangers Could Be in Fourth Place on Wednesday

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If the King wants to stay on top, he needs a win on Tuesday night.

The Rangers face the Wild in Minnesota on Tuesday night in a game that probably doesn't strike you as being all that significant.

After all, the Wild are in the Western Conference and they are already eliminated from the playoff hunt, making this game more of a chore for the visitors than the normally insignificant interconference affairs. Other than the fact that Marian Gaborik used to play his home games in St. Paul, it's hard to think of one semi-interesting thing about the history between the two teams.

Ah, but there is a storyline worth watching as the game unfolds. The Rangers enter one point ahead of the Penguins for first place in the Atlantic Division, which means that the night could end with the Rangers staring up at someone in the divisional standings for the first time in 2012.

Since the Penguins are playing the Islanders, who are both not very good and not inclined to help out the Rangers, there's a pretty good chance that they will end the night with the two points they need to vault the Rangers in the standings.

So a Rangers win would be nice since a regulation loss would leave them not only in second place in the Atlantic but also in fourth place in the Eastern Conference thanks to the preferential seeding given to division champs.

If that scenario should come to pass, it would likely be seen as a sign that the Rangers peaked too soon this season. That's only partially true, though.

The Rangers haven't been great in March, 7-6 with one shootout loss, but the reason why they are on the verge of falling out of first place has much more to do with the fact that the Penguins have won 14 of 16 games. The return of Sidney Crosby bolstered an already good team at just the right time for them to make up ground in the standings.

And history says that the Rangers might be better off passing on the top seed in the East, anyway. No top seed in the East has won the Stanley Cup since 2004 when the Lightning were able to do the trick.

That Lightning team was coached by John Tortorella, which means there's a fair chance all of this could be swung the other way if were so inclined. The long and short of it is that the Rangers need to win tonight to guarantee themselves another day at the top of the heap, regardless of what that might mean for the future.

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.

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