Even before the Rangers' latest stretch -- two losses in the past three games -- coach John Tortorella saw his team's intensity dipping. Now, in the "short strokes" of the season, he'd like to see them toughen up mentally.
"It needs to ratchet up again," he said Friday after the team's morning skate. "We need to remind ourselves that teams are coming at us."
With the steady level of success through the first 58 games of the season, the team finds itself in unfamiliar territory. First place in the Eastern Conference standings, the Rangers need to acclimate to being the "hunted" as desperate teams look to make up ground in the standings in the last six weeks of the season.
"Our level of intensity has to be better," said alternate captain Brad Richards, who has first-hand knowledge of what a postseason run takes both mentally and physically.
Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2004 when he and the Tortorella-led Tampa Bay Lightning secured the Stanley Cup in a seven-game series against the Calgary Flames.
Tortorella said he will lean on veteran leaders such as Richards, Mike Rupp and Ruslan Fedotenko inside the dressing room as the team adjusts to wearing the target during the home stretch.
"We've got to accept that responsibility," Richards said of the 38-15-5 Blueshirts. "That's part of growing up as a team."
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Fedotenko returns after missing five straight games with an undisclosed injury, assumed to be a concussion. Defenseman Steve Eminger will be scratched, with makeshift forward Stu Bickel heading back to the blue line.
Former Islander Martin Biron will make his 16th start of the season.