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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Lightning finally strikes for Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis

Brad Richards of the Rangers celebrates his third-period

Brad Richards of the Rangers celebrates his third-period power play goal against the Philadelphia Flyers with his teammate Martin St. Louis during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, April 17, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

It was fair to wonder at times during Martin St. Louis' 19 regular-season games as a Ranger whether surrendering as much as his new team did to get the 38-year-old was a wise move.

Just as it has been fair to wonder, ever since one of John Tortorella's final acts as Rangers coach was to make him a healthy scratch last spring, whether Brad Richards needs to be here for the long, long term of the six years remaining on his contract.

But the postseason, in which Richards and St. Louis made their mark a decade ago with Tortorella and the Lightning, is supposed to be their time. And if Game 1 of the Tampa twosome is any indication, their reunion was a pretty shrewd move.

Richards scored the winning goal and added two assists, all in the third period, and St. Louis assisted on both ends of the game-turning four-minute power play in the third Thursday night.

After two-plus periods of puck possession without much to show for it, Richards and St. Louis rode to the rescue against the Flyers. Game 1 to the Rangers, 4-1.

"He's a big piece for us," Richards said of his old friend from the Lightning. "He's been running power plays his whole career. It took a while to integrate into how we play and what we need to do, but you come into this time of the year with a clean slate. He's here for one reason, and that's to try and win in the playoffs."

That may have been lost in the haze of missed opportunities during St. Louis' month with the Rangers. Since he arrived in the captain swap for Ryan Callahan plus the Rangers' 2015 first-rounder (and potentially their 2014 first-rounder if the Rangers make the conference finals), the Rangers' decent power play had gone 7-for-61, which is something quite less than decent. St. Louis' one goal and seven assists didn't look too strong, either.

But in Game 1, St. Louis and Richards looked altogether different. St. Louis parked in the slot to try to score off Rick Nash's no-look feed; the puck caromed off Kimmo Timonen's skate and went right to Richards in the off-wing circle, and he fired it past Ray Emery.

Just 47 seconds later, St. Louis was now in that off-wing circle, his power-play office. He fed Richards at the point, and his diagonal feed to Derek Stepan undressed every Flyer on the ice.

Another setup by Richards for Carl Hagelin later in the third sealed the deal.

It was the sort of night for Richards that he produced during the Rangers' 2012 conference final run, coming up big in the biggest moments.

It also was a good way to erase Richards' last playoff memory of Tortorella scratching his go-to guy for Games 4 and 5 of the second-round loss to the Bruins, a move that forever damaged the coach-star relationship and helped usher Tortorella out and the Alain Vigneault era in.

"You can't get frustrated, especially in Game 1," Richards said.

There was pregame talk of that 2004 Stanley Cup in Tampa, with Richards and St. Louis in the home blues and Vinny Lecavalier across the way for the Flyers. Those three were Tortorella's stars 10 years ago, two homegrown stars and one Calgary castoff in St. Louis who worked hard to reach the pinnacle.

"Who would have thought 10 years ago skating around with the Cup that this would be 10 years [later]?" Richards said. "When you win, you kind of think you'll be there forever, and now all three of us are with different teams and it's very strange."

But Richards and St. Louis are reunited, a Tampa twosome instead of a trio. Lecavalier, like most of his Flyers teammates, was invisible in Game 1. But Richards and St. Louis were very much visible, front and center in a game the Rangers had to have, given their near-total control of it.

It's good to win the first one, of course. It's better to win it the way the Rangers did, with their Tampa twosome leading the charge.

New York Sports