Brad Richards is a Stanley Cup winner, a Conn Smythe recipient and one of the premiere centers in the NHL. Yet the New York Rangers' big-money pivot was mired in one of the deepest ruts of his career and demoted to the fourth line for Thursday's tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Maybe the overtime game-winning goal that gave the Rangers their 34th win -- 4-3 -- of the season will give him some confidence and jumpstart his game. All the reasons the Rangers signed Richards for nine years was on display on the goal. The center was in the right position at the right time to put home a crucial marker, and, as one of the more skilled players, finally come up in a clutch moment. Artem Anisimov passed to an open Richards at the right circle and snapped the puck past Mathieu Garon, who was shaky in his 27 saves, just like his counterpart, Martin Biron, on his 14 saves.
The Rangers began the game with energy and a bevy of shots, 10, yet went into the first intermission trailing 1-0 as Steven Stamkos potted his league-leading 36th with 1:04 remaining in the period.
Yet for the first time in 18 chances, the Rangers' power play would find the back of the net. Ryan Callahan deflected a Michael Del Zotto shot for his 18th of the year. Fifty-four seconds later Derek Stepan's hard work translated into a goal on a spinning shoot-and-score. It looked like New York would be able to grab the hold on this one, but Vincent Lecavalier answered right back 21 seconds later with a goal of his own on some shoddy defense and poor positioning from Biron. Bruno Gervais capitalized on a Rangers power play to give the Bolts a 3-2 lead, one they would hold going into the third period. Per Andrew Gross of The Record, New York was 3-9-1when trailing after 40 minutes.
Before the Rangers could tie it up in the third, Ruslan Fedotenko was the recipient of a high shoulder hit from Domonic Moore that likely left him with a concussion and Moore with a possible suspension. Brian Boyle scored at 10:13 of the period on a rocket to tie it up at 3. New York carried the play in the third, outshooting Tampa Bay 9-3, but couldn't put away any of their second chances. The Blueshirts would score on their only shot in the extra frame at 2:37.
With a 34-13-5 record and 73 points, the Rangers extend their Eastern Conference lead to five points and trail the Red Wings by one point (but three less games played) for the NHL lead.