Brad Richards has been searching for his A-game for much of the season. Sunday 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 beat the Islanders, 4-3.
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"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."
Gaborik's 33rd of the season, the team's third power-play goal of the game, capped a comeback in which the Rangers erased three one-goal deficits. The Rangers, who began a seven-game homestand Sunday night, remained four points ahead of surging Pittsburgh for first place in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division with 14 games to play. The Penguins won their ninth in a row Sunday.
"We definitely needed guys to step up, and he [Richards] led the way," said Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed at least three goals for the fifth straight time. "Moving the puck, he looked so confident. The way we battled tonight, I don't think we can play much better. It builds confidence . . . Being able to score on the power play, it's huge."
Richards' second power-play goal tied it at 2 late in the second. His slap shot from the left point zipped through the legs of Boyle, who was screening Evgeni Nabokov. The goal, at 16:03, was assisted by Gaborik and Mats Zuccarello, who earned his first point of the season on the day he was recalled from the AHL.
"I've been feeling better," said Richards, who 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 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 off the unsuspecting goaltender's skate at 7:44 of the second.
With Andrew 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 to give the Islanders a 3-2 lead with 36 seconds left. The period ended with the Rangers outshooting the Islanders 24-12 overall.
"It was definitely frustrating after the second period," said Lundqvist, who made 16 saves, including a blast from Frans Nielsen in overtime. "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, the Rangers mustered enough to win.
Coach John Tortorella, who put Richards between Gaborik and Carl Hagelin on the power play for the second straight game, was thrilled with Richards' play.
"He's hard on himself," Tortorella said. "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."
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."