So who steps up?

It's really no surprise that 18 years later to the day, no Rangers offered any Mark Messier-like guarantees on the eve of a win-or-go-home Game 6 in New Jersey against the Devils.

After a brisk practice at Madison Square Garden, coach John Tortorella came the closest. After responding to a question about the 1994 Eastern Conference finals by saying, "Not to disrespect what happened there, but that has nothing to do with how we're preparing," he presented two predictions.

"He'll play his best game [Friday night],'' Tortorella said of the backbone of the team, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed four goals on 16 shots in Game 5 at the Garden on Wednesday night and was less than his Vezina-candidate self in the 4-1 loss in Game 4.

Tortorella matched that prophecy with one about Brad Richards, who was clutch in the series victories over Ottawa and Washington but looked lost in Game 5 and has no goals against the Devils.

"I expect him to play his best game, too, I do," Tortorella said. "I understand his make-up, and I think he'll find a way. I think Ryan Callahan helped us tremendously last night along with a few other guys. I think Brad Richards will find his way [Friday night] as far as winning the game."

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First-year captain Callahan just laughed off the possibility that he'll be making any guarantees.

"We say little stuff here and there, but we keep that in the room," he said. "We have a lot of leadership, a lot of character. All year we've been resilient and came back in situations, and [Friday night] is no different."

Perhaps it won't be Callahan, Lundqvist or Richards who forces a Game 7 on Sunday. Perhaps it will be another Ranger.

"That's what's awesome about this time of year," said the Rangers' Mike Rupp, whose goal won the Stanley Cup for the Devils in 2003. "It doesn't matter where you are as far as the first line or fourth line; we're all pulling the same way and someone is going to come through and be a hero for some team. In '94, that was a great moment in this city for this franchise . . . It's a chance now for all of us to be that guy."

Although the Rangers are 3-0 in elimination games this postseason, the Devils are a formidable opponent and are 5-2 at home in the playoffs. "They're going to be a desperate team too,'' Callahan said. "To close out on their home ice, we need to find that next level, that extra desperation."

Lundqvist, who shut out the Devils twice in the first three games of the series, is aware of the expectations. "It's all or nothing now,'' he said. "We've been there before. We played a really good game the other night; we just didn't get the result. We had a tough start and they didn't really have to work that hard for their goals."

Richards recalled losing Game 5 to the Senators and the Rangers' subsequent rebound. "It was a tough day losing at home and then going to Ottawa," he said. "You can see the group was a lot looser today. We're confident. We finally got our legs back and played our game."

As for 1994, Richards was 14, and he confessed that he doesn't remember everything about that series. Said Richards, "We want to create our own story."