The saving grace for Brad Richards is that Alain Vigneault and not John Tortorella is coaching the Rangers now. If not, Richards might have found himself scratched for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
That's what happened to Richards last season when Tortorella scratched him for the last two games of the Rangers' loss to the Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Coming off a minus-three performance in the Rangers' 5-4 overtime loss to the Kings in Game 2, the veteran center was under pressure to help turn the tide with the Rangers facing a 2-0 deficit in the series.
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The big difference from a year ago is that Richards still had the support of Vigneault despite failing to dent the scoresheet in the first two games of the Final. "I'm sure Brad, with his experience, knows that their whole line needs to be better," said Vigneault, who included wingers Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin. "If you look at the [Game 2] stats, it obviously wasn't one of their better nights.
"They can evaluate their game real well. I'm sure they're going to have a good bounce-back game . . . Brad is a veteran player. I know he's going to respond real well. I'm confident that's what he's going to do."
Positive reinforcement from Vigneault didn't do much to lift Richards' game in the first period. Just over six minutes into the game, Richards spun in his own end and threw a clear up the middle and right onto the stick of Kings forward Justin Williams, who scored the winning goal in Game 1. Fortunately for Richards, nothing came of that gaffe.
Near the 10-minute mark, Richards came up with a takeaway in the neutral zone and put the puck in deep, where linemates Hagelin and St. Louis put strong pressure on Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.
The Rangers received the only power play of the period at 17:42, and Richards found himself in position to the left of the crease when Quick failed to control a rebound. But Richards fanned on the puck, and the moment was lost.
As the clock wound toward the end of the period, the Kings' Jeff Carter made the most of his chance, sneaking a goal past Henrik Lundqvist off the skate of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi with seven-tenths of a second left for a 1-0 lead that stunned the Garden to silence.
The Kings' Jake Muzzin added a power-play goal at 4:17 of the second period for a 2-0 lead, but an elbowing penalty on Willie Mitchell gave the Rangers another power-play chance. The Rangers put six shots on Quick, with three of them coming from Richards at the right point. The most dangerous was the final one, which bounced to Derick Brassard with Quick down in the crease, but he was unable to convert.
The Kings increased their lead to 3-0 at 17:14 of the second period when Mike Richards scored on a two-on-one rush against Brad Richards' line. St. Louis failed to stop the breakout, and the Rangers' Richards was too late coming back up the middle to help.