Brad Richards #19 of the New York Rangers celebrates his...

Brad Richards #19 of the New York Rangers celebrates his first period goal against the Washington Capitals during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Madison Square Garden. (May 12, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

For the first season at least, the nine-year, $60-million contract that Brad Richards signed in July is paying some dividends.

"It seems like he thrives in these moments, and you saw it tonight," Ryan Callahan said. "Right through the year, he's been big for us, and he's going to continue to have to be big."

In the biggest do-or-die game for the Rangers in 15 years, Richards, 32, scored at 1:32 of the first period, a goal that ignited the team and the Madison Square Garden sellout crowd.

"Whoever scored that goal . . . It's a big goal," said Richards, who is tied for fourth in the NHL in playoff scoring with 11 points. "They did it to us in Game 6 when they got an early goal; we did it tonight."

Richards played 22:03, had four shots, won 14 faceoffs and anchored the No. 1 line with Marian Gaborik (game-high six shots) and Carl Hagelin (career-high two assists). Afterward, he wore the black fedora known as the Broadway Hat that he brought back from the opening series in Sweden in October and is given to a player after each win.

Coach John Tortorella double-shifted the line early. "With Richie, we've talked about shooting the puck right away and not hesitating," he said. "They block shots very well and we needed to get shots through."


Rangers hold the fort

The six-minute stretch in the second period in which the Capitals, trailing 1-0, controlled play, forced icings and penned the weary Rangers behind the blue line could have changed the game.

"They caught us a couple times with long shifts and we just ended up collapsing and hoping for a save or we get the puck out and try not to get hurt," said Marc Staal, who played 26:55 and blocked five shots. "Any time you come out of Game 7 on top, it's a great feeling. There's not too many other feelings like it as a hockey player."


Blue notesThe Rangers outshot the Caps 212-179 in the series . . . Tortorella is 4-1 in Game 7s.

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