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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Richards pays off in the playoffs

New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan (24)

New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan (24) celebrates his goal with Michael Del Zotto (4) and Brad Richards (19) during the second period against the Washington Capitals in Game 3. (May 2, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

The Rangers have never paid anyone as much as they're paying Brad Richards. By the time July 1 rolls around, the 32-year-old center will have already been paid $20 million of the $60 million he signed for, with the remainder stretched out through 2020.

But if Richards continues to do what he's done so far in the playoffs, what he did with 7.6 seconds left in Game 5 on Monday night, then it will be so very worth it.

Richards isn't the most dynamic player on the ice, not the fastest, not the flashiest, not the most rah-rah in the locker room. It's hard to know exactly what it is that makes him such a key to the teams he's played on.

"He's got 'it,' " John Tortorella said. "And he's done 'it' at big moments."

Richards held court at his agents' suburban Toronto offices last July, giving time to half a dozen teams who came armed with mega-million offers and appeals as to why he should join them.

All the while, the Rangers had the upper hand, not just because of the front-loaded deal they could offer, but because of Tortorella, who helped whip a young Richards into shape in Tampa a decade ago, culminating in a 2004 Stanley Cup run during which Richards scored seven game-winning goals and took the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

He was 24 then. Eight years later, Richards is not the talented, young disciple of Tortorella's. He's the wise old veteran, spreading the gospel of Torts to a new crop of talented, young disciples.

"We drive up to the [practice] rink a lot together, and he talks to me about a lot of things," said Carl Hagelin, who was a teenager in Sweden when Richards won the Cup but knew all about his new teammate when both began their Rangers careers this year. "He's a leader. You can see that."

Richards has spent time mentoring Michael Del Zotto, who went from precocious rookie to demoted in the last two seasons, a victim at times of his own cockiness. When a coach can't get through to a young player, a teammate sometimes can.

To paraphrase Robert DeNiro in "The Untouchables," you can get farther with a Stanley Cup ring and some friendly advice than you can with just the friendly advice.

"He's a guy who's been there, he's done it," Del Zotto said.

The Rangers have swung and missed too many times to count in free agency, especially in the Glen Sather decade, so the nine-year deal lavished on Richards may have seemed extravagant, especially as he hit a few bumps in trying to find his level inside the locker room and on the ice.

But this postseason has been Richards' time to shine. He played a man-sized Game 6 in Ottawa last round, pitching in to even the series and send the Rangers to a Game 7. He found pay dirt Monday night, when it was "smack and whack" time in the final seconds, his goal sending it to overtime.

He's been in the middle of some big moments already, even though he'd be the first to say the Rangers aren't even halfway to their goal.

"It's the intangibles he brings to a young team," Tortorella said. "I never worry about Richie. He knows what he is."

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