NEW YORK -- As composite sticks tend to do, Anton Stralman's snapped in half during the Rangers' morning skate Friday. Instead of sulking and returning to the bench for a new stick, Stralman took the bottom half of the stick and flipped a fluttering one-timer toward the net.
It provided a hearty laugh for everyone lucky enough to witness it and perhaps a moment of levity before the Rangers look to avoid elimination against the Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals Friday night at Prudential Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"I think we're trying to look at it right now that this is a great opportunity, not a situation filled with a lot of pressure," Stralman said. "We're looking forward to it and feeling good about our last game even though we didn't get the win. I think we got back to the way we need to play and that's what we're going to do tonight."
The Rangers spent most of the first four games of this series on their heels and fell into a 3-0 hole early in Game 5. It acted as a wake-up call, however, as the Rangers took control of the game and eventually tied it 3-3. The Devils emerged with a 5-3 win on late goals from Ryan Carter and Zach Parise, but the toughness shown in the loss was something that had been lacking in the series.
Rangers coach John Tortorella said it was a sign that the team's mindset finally was what it had been for most of the previous 96 games they had played this season.
"I think as you keep on going through here, you need to get better," Tortorella said. "That's why we've gone back and forth. I don't think we've been consistent there. I think the most important thing that happened [in Game 5], after a pretty screwy start, is that I thought our mindset changed. I think that's really important for our team. I think we were us [in Game 5] for a lot of the game.
"I still think we have to elevate. Some guys played really good. I think they're going to have to play better. Some guys didn't play well, and they'll have to try to find their game."
The mental toughness of the Rangers is something that has been growing during Tortorella's three seasons.
This season, the Rangers went three straight games without a win only twice. In games they trailed after two periods, they were 5-18-1, the fifth-best mark in the NHL.
Last season, the Rangers had two losing streaks of three games, but a third stretch in which they lost six straight and eight of 10. When trailing after two periods, they were 8-24-4, the seventh-best record in the League.
Two seasons ago, Tortorella's first full one with the Rangers, the team had more peaks and valleys than the Himalayas. They had seven losing streaks of at least three games, and when trailing after two periods, no team was worse than the Rangers, who were 1-25-2.
The Rangers once were a young team that didn't know how to win or handle adversity. Now they are a club that is 3-0 when facing elimination in these playoffs and 2-0 in Game 7s.
"I think our team really embraces a challenge," Tortorella said. "You want to try to ride things out the right way to have an easier road going through, but when you don't, and as we've gone through the playoffs we've had some things we've had to get accomplished in tough ways. I think it's really good for the team, not only in the present but the future, as far as where we're going. So we take them as they come, and this is just a fantastic opportunity for us."
"I think it's part of the growing process," forward Brandon Prust said. "You continue to learn as a group and we've been growing together for a couple years now. I think through your losses, you build that skin."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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