- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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The cameras are gone and the Winter Classic is over, meaning the Rangers can finally get back to some semblance of normalcy in a season that has so far been anything but.
First there was the European road trip to begin the season, then the lengthy Western Conference jaunt that followed. Next, a long-awaited season debut at the revamped Madison Square Garden. Once December hit, cameras descended on the Rangers, tracking their every move in the build-up to the team's celebrated Jan. 2 match-up against the Flyers at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park.
The game lived up to the hype, with the Rangers erasing a 2-0 deficit to pull off a thrilling comeback and 3-2 win over the team's Atlantic Division rival.
The 24-9-4 Blueshirts sit perched atop the Eastern Conference standings with a one-point lead over the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. What now?
"Sometimes the harder thing to do is when no one’s watching and there are not as exciting, built-up games. Those are sometimes the harder ones to play," assistant captain Brad Richards said. "You really have to remember what you're doing -- representing your team -- and you want to put the best effort forward."
"It's easy to get up for the big ones all the time and the big stages. It's going through those 82 games, you really have to bear down. Especially January, that’s a tough month no matter what team you play on; everyone seems to call them dog days and that stuff," Richards continued." If you want to let it creep itnto your head and be mentally soft like that it can take over a team pretty quickly."
Following Wednesday's practice, coach John Tortorella admitted that was a "concern."
“Yeah, I’m worried about that. We talked about that as a team as far as a letdown," he said. "It was an emotional thing; it was a great experience for us. We’re fortunate we end up on the right side of it, the end, the last day of it, and the way it was won -- it was a lot of emotion. We’ve got to get our energy back right away."
The Rangers first post-Classic test will be a back-to-back set against two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference -- the Panthers at home Thursday and Penguins in Pittsburgh Friday night.
Tortorella said the issue has already been discussed and that he's confident the team will embrace this challenge as it has so many others this season.
"It concerns me, so it's been addressed," Tortorella said. "It will probably be addressed a couple more times before we play. But again, I trust the hockey club. We’ve answered a lot of different situations so far. I think they’ll answer the proper way here."
5dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald