Brad Richards has been searching for his A-game for much of the season. Last night, when the Rangers needed their No. 1 center the most, Richards came through, scoring two power play goals and feeding Marian Gaborik for the winner with 5.8 seconds left in overtime to edge the Islanders 4-3.
"Richie was a horse tonight," said Brian Boyle, who tipped in the tying goal from in front at 3:29 of the third period. "He and Gabby took a big bunch of pressure off of us, especially on the power play."
The Rangers, who fought to erase three one-goal deficits, snapped a three-game losing streak and preserved a four-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division with 14 games to play. Gaborik's 33rd of the season---the third power play goal of the night---capped a comeback from which the Rangers, now with 93 points, gathered a boatload of confidence to start a seven-game homestand.. After the Blueshirts, with 93 points, host Carolina on Tuesday, the surging Penguins, who defeated the Bruins, 5-2, yesterday afternoon to temporarily climb within two points of the Rangers, visit on Thursday.
"We definitely needed guys to step up and he (Richards) led the way," said Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed three goals for the seventh straight time, but stoned Frans Neilsen in overtime, stopping his slapper from between the circles. "Moving the puck, he looked so confident. The way we battled tonight, I don't think we can play much better. It builds so much confidence and momentum Being able to score on the power play, it's huge. Guys sitting on the bench can feel it."
Richards' second power-play goal of the game tied the game at 2 late in the second. His slapper from the left point zipped through the legs of Boyle, who was screening Evgeni Nabokov in front of the the net. The power play goal, with assists from Gaborik and Mats Zuccarello, his first point of the season on the day he was recalled from the AHL, came at 16:03. Both Carl Hagelin and Gaborik had chances in front right afterward. Hagelin passed up a shot and tried to pass to Richards, but Nabokov got his glove down to smother it. .
"I've been feeling better," said Richards, who now has 21 goals and 29 assists. "The Devils game (a 4-1 loss that started the losing streak) was awful, but besides that, I've felt progress.The production sometimes doesn;t come, but I feel better seeing the ice. You have to stay with the fact that you think you're getting better, you trust it. Tonight, some things happened to me and I got rewarded."
A bizarre bounce rewarded the Islanders, giving them a 2-1 lead at 7:44 of the second period.
With just 13 seconds left on a double-minor to Derek Stepan for high-sticking, Mark Streit's shot ricocheted cleanly off a stanchion behind Lundqvist, and jumped right out to the left post. Matt Moulson was there, and the rolling puck deflected in of the unsuspecting goaltenders skate at 7:44 of the second.
With Andy MacDonald in the penalty box for holding at 17:17, the Rangers kept pressing, but John Tavares grabbed a loose puck in the Islanders zone and found MacDonald leaving the box and behind the Rangers defense. MacDonald skated in alone and beat Lundqvist far side to restore the Islanders lead at 3-2 with 46 seconds left. The period ended with the Rangers outshooting the Islanders 24-12
"It was definitely frustrating after the second period," said Lundqvist. "It was another night where the pucks seemed to bounce the wrong way. We just had to be more determined." After allowing eight goals in the last three third periods, they mustered enough to win.
Coach John Tortorella, who put Richards between Gaborik and Hagelin for the second consecutive game, and Zuccarello on the power play, was thrilled with Richards' play. "He's hard on himself," said Tortorella. "He's a great pro. If this is the time of year where he gets going on all cylinders, it's going to help the team tremendously." Said Richards, who signed a nine-year, $58 million deal last July, said "I came here to win...I feel I can do more down the stretch."