"It's a struggle right now for him," Tortorella said before last night's game against the Lightning, "but he's still capable of making big plays at key times. I've got a tremendous amount of faith in him."
Richards, who had only one goal and two assists in the last 12 games, rewarded that faith when he scored with 2:23 left in overtime to give the Rangers a 4-3 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Falling to the left of goalie Mathieu Garon, Richards reached out just enough to score his seventh game-winner of the season after a battle in the zone by Michael Del Zotto and a great pass from Artem Anisimov.
"I hammered it as hard as I could," Boyle said. "I can't believe it went in."
That set the stage for Richards. "It's been a grind the last month and a half," he said. "It weighs on you, but little by little, I'm working on it."
The resilient Rangers (34-13-5), who remained four points ahead of the Flyers for the division lead, answered a loss with a victory for the seventh straight time. Their last back-to-back losses were in mid-December, 22 games ago. They are a league-leading 4-9-1 when trailing going into the third period.
"I know [Richards] was pretty relieved to get that one," Del Zotto said. "We all were. It was a great comeback for us -- just the way things have gone for him and the team as a whole not scoring many goals."
But the Rangers may have lost Ruslan Fedotenko to a head shot from Dominic Moore that left players livid. Moore nailed Fedotenko in the jaw with his right shoulder but was assessed only a minor for roughing. Fedotenko was helped to the locker room and there was no immediate update on his condition. Tortorella would not comment, but a few players did. "We're still pretty angry," Boyle said. "That was a really, really dirty play."
Said Richards: "It's idiotic."
Martin Biron, who had not played since a 4-3 overtime loss to the Devils on Jan. 31, earned his 10th victory. "He was a bit all over the place," Tortorella said, "but he makes two great saves on [Steven] Stamkos in the third and a couple of others, too."
The Rangers allowed a season-low 17 shots to Tampa Bay, which had won five of six against the Rangers, including three straight at the Garden.
With Tampa Bay ahead 1-0, the teams exchanged three goals in 1:15 of the second period. Ryan Callahan deflected Del Zotto's shot past Garon at 4:33 for the team's first power-play goal in six games. Derek Stepan spun in front to score at 5:27 for a 2-1 lead, but Vinny Lecavalier banked a shot from the left of Biron off Callahan only 21 seconds later. With Steve Eminger, playing for the first time since Dec. 17, off for tripping at 11:40, defenseman Bruno Gervais converted a feed from Stamkos, who had scored his league-leading 36th goal in the first period, to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead.
Notes & quotes: Eminger had a team-high five hits in 12:59 of ice time. The Rangers outhit the Lightning 37-13 . . . Del Zotto had two assists and Stepan had a goal and an assist.