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New York Rangers’ 5 Most Important Games During Homestand

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New York Rangers' 5 Most Important Games During Homestand

Adam Hunger - USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers commenced the most critical stretch of their season yesterday with a convincing 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. This was the first of a slate of games in which the Rangers play all but one at home up until after Christmas. With 10 of 11 games at home coming up and the only road game at the league-worst Buffalo Sabres, the Rangers have a golden opportunity in front of them.

Not only is this a chance for the Rangers to climb their way to the top of the Eastern Conference, but also a chance to establish some consistency. They stand at 14-13-0, and have yet to go on a winning streak of more than three games. They will face winnable opponents, division rivals and a couple of bottom-feeders. Should the Rangers fail to get any momentum during this homestand, it will be a massive struggle for them just to get into the playoffs.

Looking ahead to January, the Rangers' schedule gets very difficult and tricky, especially right before the Olympic break. If the Rangers don't take advantage of their home ice in December, one could argue that the Rangers will be on the outside of a playoff spot by February. This is not a suggestion that the Rangers will be at the top of the conference if they have a great December; there are still too many issues at this time for that to happen. That said, a bad or mediocre December will seriously hurt them in the long run.

Here are the five most important games of their long homestand that will take the Rangers past Christmas.

Matt Stillwell is a New York Rangers contributor for rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattNYR12, "like" him on Facebook and connect with him on Google Plus for all NYR news and notes!

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5. Toronto Maple Leafs, Dec. 23

Charles LeClaire - USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers' first game this season against the young and hungry Toronto Maple Leafs is also the final game of the homestand. Toronto gave the Rangers fits last year with their speed, and with an improved team, they should do so again. Expect the boo birds to be out in full force for Dion Phaneuf as Ranger fans haven't forgotten his career-ending hit on Michael Sauer two years ago.

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4. Columbus Blue Jackets, Dec. 12

Brad Mills - USA TODAY Sports

Family reunion, part two! The Columbus Blue Jackets visit Madison Square Garden for the first time this season, and it marks the return of several former Rangers. Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov make their first visits to MSG since their respective departures. Expect this to be an emotional night.

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3. Washington Capitals, Dec. 8

Brad Mills - USA TODAY Sports

Are the Washington Capitals' struggles against the Rangers mental? It's possible. Either way, the Rangers and Capitals are neck-and-neck for second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers need to reaffirm supremacy over Alex Ovechkin and co.

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2. Pittsburgh Penguins, Dec. 18

Robert Mayer - USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers absolutely dominated Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on November 6 in a 5-1 win. Can the Rangers do it again? Pittsburgh is the team to beat in the division, so a similar performance may be necessary.

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1. New Jersey Devils, Dec. 7

Ed Mulholland - USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers have two frustrating losses and no wins vs. the rival New Jersey Devils this season. This is a chance for the Rangers to get off the schneid. Another loss to Martin Brodeur and co. will really sting.