Friday, February 10, 2012

Richie's OT winner bolts former club

All Brad Richards needed was his former club to end a slump. The '04 Conn Smythe winner delivered a clutch goal much like he had to win in Tampa Bay- scoring the overtime winner in an exciting Ranger 4-3 comeback win last night at MSG.

Richards entered ice cold with just one goal over the previous 12 games. Finding himself in the unfamiliar position of starting on the fourth line, the first-year Blueshirt who was brought in to add offense worked his way up throughout a spirited third with earlier goalscorer Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin. On a rare occasion where the power play clicked on a Callahan tip off a Michael Del Zotto shot, Richards was able to score his team-leading seventh game-winner at 2:37 of OT thanks to a great set up from Artem Anisimov. It allowed him to breathe easier as teammates jumped off the bench to mob him.

Most importantly, it was another example of a team not giving in following a disappointing showing against the Devils. In an odd yet entertaining affair in which the Lightning led twice, the Rangers picked themselves up with a great third and OT to prevent a losing streak. Playing with a sense of purpose after a second that saw backup Marty Biron let in consecutive Tampa goals off the sticks of Vinny Lecavalier and ex-Isle Bruno Gervais, the hosts attacked their opponents with vigor, creating a lot of chances. Mathieu Garon was steady. Brian Boyle missed an earlier opportunity when he rang one off the post but on kind of a fluky play, the checking center took a Hagelin feed and whipped the puck past the Tampa netminder, tying it with under 10 minutes left.

"It’s like other good teams that I’ve been on. There’s never a panic in the locker room,” Richards said. `We’ve been through it, and we’ve got a game plan. We’ve executed many times and we’re very confident.”

“I think it’s a mindset. If you have some success, and we have had some success in the third period, you try to go back to that,” Tortorella pointed out of his team's resilience. “We were playing well. They are such an opportunistic team, it doesn’t take much for them to score goals.”

Boyle's fourth point over the last six felt like poetic justice following a Dom Moore cheap shot knocked out linemate Ruslan Fedotenko. Amazingly, Moore only received two minutes for roughing for a blindside hit that made contact with his head from behind. Moments earlier, Fedotenko delivered a check to Moore. Was he paying him back? He denied it later. The hit was being reviewed by the league. John Tortorella refused comment. But Richards said it was the type of hit that needs to be eliminated.

As for the game's conclusion, the Rangers still needed a pair of Biron denials on leading goalscorer Steven Stamkos in the final minute of regulation just to make overtime. Stamkos had earlier burned Biron, Michael Del Zotto and Anton Stralman for a late first period goal on a nice backhand deke five-hole. It was his league best 36th of the season. This time, Biron got the better of the former No.1 overall pick. On a night where he wasn't required to make many stops, those were the best of his 14.

In OT, Anisimov and Del Zotto combined to force a turnover and then helped set up Richards' game decider. Anisimov took a Del Zotto pass and circled down low for a two-on-one and then made a great pass for Richie, who buried his 17th from a tough angle at the left side of a helpless Garon.

"Don't give up on that guy. It'd be the wrong thing to do," praised Tortorella of his star pupil he also coached with the Lightning to their only championship.

For a team that hasn't been lighting the lamp with regularity, it was good to see them dig deep against a team that's been hot of late, winning eight of 10 with only one regulation defeat. They made it tough on the Rangers with our team getting victimized by Tampa's skill. But the win made it the seventh time this season that the Blueshirts refused to lose two in a row. A great quality which allowed them to move five points up on idle Boston for the conference lead. With the Flyers edging the Leafs, it's a four-point lead for the Atlantic with the Devils seven out due to a shootout loss to St. Louis (4-3) and the Pens eight back. Another big test tomorrow with a visit to Philly who they've dominated thus far. It shouldn't be easy.

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