It was late in the second period at Madison Square Garden, and the Canadiens were rallying. A 3-0 first-period lead for the Rangers was now 3-2, thanks to goals by Max Pacioretty and a 5-on-3 score from Andrei Kostitsyn.
But with 1:10 left in the period, center Brad Richards cut across the Montreal blue line, fronted by defenseman Yannick Weber. Richards used Weber as a screen and fired a high shot past the raised glove of Carey Price to restore a two-goal margin, and the Blueshirts (6-3-3) held on for a 5-3 victory, their third consecutive win at home. It was Richards’ fourth goal of the season, and first since his two-goal effort in the loss to the Senators on Oct. 29.
“I was just looking for a way to get a shot through (Weber),” said Richards. “I hesitated and he (Price) moved a bit. I had nowhere else to go but glove side.”
Richards' tally---on his only shot on goal of the evening---was critical because Brian Gionta trimmed the lead to 4-3 at 18:10 of the 3rd period, slapping a rolling puck from the left point that bounced over Henrik Lundqvist's shoulder.
Richards’ score “was the key goal, because I thought we were back in the game,” said Habs coach Jacques Martin.
After that, the Rangers hung on, using mainly four defensemen after Michael Sauer’s game misconduct in the first period, and Ryan Callahan, who raced to confront Mike Blunden who had leveled Brandon Dubinsky at center ice at 4:18 to ignite a brawl, slid the puck into an empty net with 38 seconds left.
“Richie’s goal was huge, coming late in the period like that,” said Lundqvist. And it came after Eric Cole hit the post on the previous shift, coming within inches of tying the game.
Fueled by that dominant first period, in which goals from Erik Christensen, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto provided a significant bulge, the victory snapped a four-game winning streak by the Canadiens.
Tempers flared early when Blunden decked Dubinsky, who had the puck at his feet, with a shoulder. “Great fight by Cally,” coach John Tortorella said. Sauer grappled with Petteri Nokelainen and were given game misconducts.
On the ensuing 5 on 3, Christensen buried the puck from the right post courtesy of a cross-ice pass from Derek Stepan. Girardi’s second goal of the season came at 10:28, on a slap shot after Artem Anismov attempted a wraparound. Del Zotto, with a sweet cut-in and backhander through the five-hole on Price, netted the third goal, which also was set up by Stepan, at 17:40. “Not so much the finish, it’s what his mindset is. Danny (Girardi) blocks a shot and Del Z is up the ice right away…his decision-making gets better and better,” said Tortorella.
But then the Rangers had to fight off the Canadiens with essentially four defensemen: Girardi, Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh and Steve Eminger. Jeff Woywitka spent much of the time on the bench. “I was kind of going out there every other shift,” said Girardi, who logged 30:50, and Del Zotto, 27:26.
Had the Rangers been more successful on power plays, it wouldn’t have come down to the empty-netter. The Rangers managed just the one man-advantage goal in nine opportunities, making Richards’ wrister even more essential.