GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- After missing the playoffs in his final three seasons with the Dallas Stars, centre Brad Richards relishes the opportunity to compete in the post-season again.
"Getting to come here and play in New York is great, but this is exactly the reason why you want to go somewhere and get a chance," said Richards, who signed a nine-year, $60-million deal with the Rangers in July and totaled 25 goals and 41 assists for 66 points this season. "We're in it now; we have a chance, the same chance that everybody else has to win the Stanley Cup. It's just great to have that feeling again, to be back in it."
In 2003-04, Richards, then 24, led the NHL in playoff scoring with 12 goals and 14 assists in 23 games and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP after Tampa Bay defeated the Calgary Flames in a seven-game Stanley Cup Finals.
"He was pretty young and we had a great run," said Ruslan Fedotenko, who played for the Lightning. "Game in, game out, he was a leader on the ice, he can be a game-changer. His line and (goaltender Nikolai) Khabibulin played unbelievable. It's not just about one player, everybody needs to believe in it."
Now 31, with 62 points in 63 playoff games, including 18 with the Stars, Richards is well aware of the emotions and momentum swings in the weeks ahead and will share some of that experience with the younger Blueshirts, starting in the first round against the Ottawa Senators.
"They have a great power play, so we're going to have to be disciplined, and they can score goals, so closing them out and not giving them time and space is going to be important," said Richards, who emphasized the importance of the Rangers raising their play. "We're going to have to bring our game up another level, and as the series goes on, probably each game another level, and then if we get that right, we don't have to worry what they (Ottawa) present."
Richards, however, conceded that he can pass along only so much. "No matter what I say, you still have to experience it, you've got to be in the games, see the level of intensity and the pace it gets to," he said. "For the most part, experience is just getting your feet wet, some of these guys did that last year, like Step (Derek Stepan) and Mac (Ryan McDonagh); DZ (Michael Del Zotto) and Hags (Carl Hagelin), Bick (Stu Bickel), they haven't been in it yet, but you get thrown in the fire."
The heat was on in 2003-04. After Tampa, coached by John Tortorella, beat the Islanders, Canadiens and Flyers, the Flames won Games 1, 3 and 5 of the Finals. Richards scored twice to help secure a Game 6 victory and Fedotenko scored twice in the Cup-clinching Game 7.
"There were some bad times during that run," Richards said. "If you let yourself think 'we're done' or 'it's not going our way,' it can grab you and snowball quickly."
What Richards, who has been a mentor this season, brings, is not tricky at all, Tortorella said. "He's a winner; he's going to be a big part of it, on the ice and off the ice."