The emotional 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres Sunday night at the Garden was a relief for the Rangers. So was seeing Brad Richards walking, although aching all over, through the locker room afterward.
After all, at 3:28 of the third period, the Rangers were trailing 1-0 and Richards was writhing in pain on the ice after Patrick Kaleta shoved him from behind headfirst into the sideboards. Kaleta was handed a five-minute major and a game misconduct and is highly likely to be suspended. The incident angered the Rangers, who scored twice on the ensuing power plays.
"That's a little different than a head shot. That's just stupidity," said Richards, who said he was "very fortunate.''
"If we're all going to look at each other's numbers, ram each other behind headfirst into the boards, it's going to be a tough game to play,'' he said. "It's not hockey. I don't know what game he plays, actually. He doesn't play hockey to begin with."
"It's probably one of the most dangerous hits I've seen," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "It's ridiculous. I'm glad we made them pay. It's disgusting. It's a lack of respect."
Richards was being escorted into the tunnel leading off the ice when Derek Stepan responded with his fifth goal. He converted from the doorstep after a cross-ice pass from Rick Nash on a five-on-three just seven seconds later at 3:35, and Nash (goal, assist in two straight) beat goaltender Ryan Miller from the right circle on a pass from Marian Gaborik during the five-on-four at 4:18.
"It's a cheap hit,'' Marc Staal said. "You want to hurt them. We were able to get two, but it doesn't do that kind of hit any justice. I played against him in juniors. He does a lot of those hits, cheap shots, and a lot of times he doesn't back it up. He either gets kicked out and you don't see him for a month or the rest of the game he sits on the bench."
Kaleta wasn't made available to the media, but Miller said: "I don't think it was intentional."
But the Rangers (10-8-2) couldn't retain the momentum generated by the two power-play goals. A shorthanded score -- the third allowed by the Rangers this season -- tied it when Steve Ott found Nathan Gerbe open on a two-on-one at 8:19.
In overtime, the Rangers survived a carryover Nash penalty for clearing the puck over the glass with 34 seconds left in regulation and Dan Girardi's boarding at 54 seconds of the extra session.
"They won us the game, for sure," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said of the special teams (the Rangers killed five power plays and the improving power play is 6-for-27). "The power play stepped up even though we gave up one. And the way we killed theirs down the stretch was huge."
It was the second consecutive win for the Rangers, who snapped a three-game winning streak by the Sabres (9-12-2).
"I'm proud of the guys," Nash said. "They stuck with it."