New York Rangers Marian Gaborik (10), Brad Richards (19), Brian...

New York Rangers Marian Gaborik (10), Brad Richards (19), Brian Boyle (22) and Mats Zuccarello (36) celebrate Richard's goal against New York Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov in the second period of an NHL hockey game. (March 11, 2012) Credit: AP

For the first eight games of the season, center Brad Richards, signed in July to a nine-year, $60-million deal, was paired with right wing Marian Gaborik. But when the Rangers got off to a 3-3-2 start, Richards -- signed, according to team president Glen Sather, to pair with the speedy Slovakian sniper -- and Gaborik were split up.

"It didn't look good at all," recalled coach John Tortorella, who has reunited the two on a line with rookie Carl Hagelin for the past two games. "It was so well-chronicled: 'When Brad Richards gets here, him and Gabby are going to play [together] . . .' I wasn't sure. I've seen it so many times; it looks great on paper, and usually it doesn't work."

The trio clicked against the Blackhawks and Islanders, creating scoring chances and cashing in. In Chicago, Richards scored at even strength with assists from his linemates. Richards tallied twice and Gaborik once on the power play in the win over the Islanders, with Richards setting up Gaborik's overtime goal.

"When we first played together, it was in the middle of a monthlong road trip," Richards said. "The last two games, it's been way better. It would have been great if it worked the first day, but sometimes it doesn't happen. I know how he plays now, when you're up close. I don't know [about] pressure, but you want to make it work right away because it's probably the most natural-looking fit on paper, and if it works, everything else will fall into place. It didn't.

"He's having a good year [33 goals] and we're winning, so it worked out both ways. Now we've got to take the next step and bury more five-on-five."

A few weeks ago, Tortorella began using the trio after a penalty-kill. "You could see little by little that they found one another," he said of Richards and Gaborik. "I think the players deserve a lot of credit. They've handled me putting them in different spots and found a way to contribute. I think they've been a little more creative with the puck, and Richie's begun to see the ice better."

And with Hagelin, 22, Richards has blazing speed on each wing.

"The most important thing is getting the puck, protecting the puck; once we do that, we're pretty dangerous down low," said Hagelin, who said that when he was growing up in Sweden, Gaborik "was probably my favorite player. I saw him a lot on the Slovakian national team. He can create a lot taking the puck to the net. I just try to keep up with him."

Notes & quotes: Ryan Callahan (right foot) and Michael Del Zotto (right hip) did not practice and presumably are out for Tuesday night's game against the Hurricanes . . . Tortorella said Mats Zuccarello, who brought his passing skills to the power play in his first game after being recalled frm the AHL, will get another start. "He's well-liked and well-respected in the locker room,'' he said. "He's very creative. I think some guys were surprised by his passes. It's a gift."

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