When Brad Richards was signed, everyone expected him to be paired with Marian Gaborik on the New York Rangers' first line. After all, it made the most sense: Gaborik was coming off a down year and the Blueshirts lacked a true playmaking man in the middle.
But that everyone didn't include coach John Tortorella, who tried to duo out at the beginning of the year, breaking it apart until the past two games. Tuesday versus the Carolina Hurricanes, the top line with the Rangers' most talented forwards -- including Carl Hagelin -- was lethal, combining for all the goals in New York's 4-2 victory.
The Rangers entered the game with any number of built-in excuses for why they could struggle: captain Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto continued to be sidelined, and Henrik Lundqvist caught the flu, giving the nod to Martin Biron (and even causing them to call up Chad Johnson from the AHL).
But the began the game very strongly, with Gaborik cleaning up Dan Girardi's shot that banked off the backboards. That's all the scoring in a high-flying period, with the Rangers leading in shots 10-9.
Biron was called on to keep New York in the game a number of times, with a few coming midway through the third, just before Richards converted for his 22nd ... minutes before he collected his 23rd. The primary assists went toHageln. Richards' second goal was especially impressive: Hagelin took the puck in the corner, fed it to the center at a bad angle. Instead of shooting it there, though, Richards waited patiently, catching Carolina goalie Cam Ward down, with essentially an open net.
The Rangers scored two goals in three minutes, but the Hurricanes responded with two goals in 32 seconds, the first of which coming 1:33 after Richards' second. Tim Brent scored on the power play, and Drayson Bowman put in the team's second.
Over its recent lull, New York has been struggling in third periods. The Rangers, though, had a solid third period where they were aggressive instead of sitting back. Hagelin scored the insurance marker at 13:00
The top line played just as any team's top line should play. Hagelin had a goal and two assists; Gaborik a goal and two assists (each a plus-four) and Richards had two goals an an assist (plus-three). The three combined for 15 of the Rangers' 28 shots.
The Rangers' magic number to clinch a playoff spot is now four points.