Ten years past is really a hockey lifetime for Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards, who have both spoken of their playoff naiveté when their Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Veterans now — Richards is 34 and St. Louis turns 39 on June 18, which would just happen to be Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals (if necessary) in which their Rangers will play — the longtime friends can truly appreciate the opportunity they have before them in the coming days.

After two days off following Thursday night's 1-0 win over the Canadiens in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers will resume practicing today. Later tonight, they will learn whether they will face the defending Cup champion Blackhawks or the Kings, who won in 2012, after those teams play Game 7 of the Western Conference finals in Chicago.

Game 1 of the Cup finals will be Wednesday night either in Chicago or Los Angeles. On June 9, the Garden will host its first Cup finals game since the Rangers beat the Canucks in Game 7 on June 14, 1994 for the franchise's fourth championship.

"Of course I understand," said St. Louis, in a quiet moment Thursday outside the raucously victorious Rangers' dressing room, of having a greater appreciation for playoff success now.

"In '11, we lost 1-0 in Game 7 on the road," recalled St. Louis of the Lightning's elimination loss to the Bruins in that year's conference final. "I cried on the ice because I knew how hard it is to get there. You give everything you have and you fall short of that experience and it's tough to take. Now, I'm on the good side. It's a great feeling."

Having advanced to the Cup finals for the first time since the Lightning won it all in 2004, St. Louis and Richards made one thing plainly clear to their teammates: Don't touch the Prince of Wales Trophy as it was presented on ice to the Rangers for winning the conference championship.

"Marty and I have been there," said Richards, who has naturally developed into the team's de facto captain once Ryan Callahan was traded to the Lightning on March 5. "We won it without touching it, and it was instructed [by the Lightning veterans] that way when we won. We're not doing it."

Richards, of course, joined the Rangers on a nine-year, $60 million deal for the 2011-12 season after the Lightning had traded him to the Stars late in the 2007-08 season.

His on-ice reunion with St. Louis may be a short one if Rangers general manager Glen Sather opts to buy out Richards this off-season rather than expose the franchise to severe salary-cap problems if Richards retires before the end of his contract.