Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Richards smokes Canes

Brad Richards is on fire. He scored two more and set up another in the Rangers' 4-2 win over the Hurricanes last night for the club's second consecutive victory. The timing couldn't be more perfect with Ryan Callahan, Mike Del Zotto and Henrik Lundqvist all out. Lundqvist wasn't available due to the flu. So, the club recalled Chad Johnson as an emergency backup to Marty Biron, who had one of his best games since the calendar year turned. He finished with 27 saves, including a handful of big ones early.

Since being reunited with Marian Gaborik, Richards has found chemistry along with ever improving freshman Carl Hagelin, who recorded his first three-point game with his 13th goal and two helpers. Gaborik also notched his club best 34th as the line scored all four goals, combining for seven points. Gaborik got it started when he took a favorable carom (ironic eh) and steered home No.34 at 3:02. Dan Girardi's wide shot went right to him and his goal put him in a four-way tie for third behind runaway Rocket Richard leader Steven Stamkos (49 & 50 yesterday) and the Pens' Evgeni Malkin, who visits along with Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang tomorrow in a big showdown. The Rangers will take a six-point lead for the conference lead into the anticipated match-up.

Following Gaborik's tally, Carolina made life difficult on Biron due in part to a Stu Bickel penalty. One of the issues during their slump has been untimely penalties. Even though the Blueshirts killed it off thanks to some outstanding netminding from Biron, they must buck the trend. In the postseason, such loss of discipline could come back to bite them. Before they knew, it the Canes led 7-4 in shots. But they finished better.

Putting some distance between them and the Canes, Richards struck twice 2:59 apart halfway through the middle stanza. On both goals, he used great patience before beating Cam Ward on feeds from Hagelin, whose rookie push will be too late to make up ground on Calder trio Adam Henrique, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gabriel Landeskog. Richie's 22nd and 23rd made it five goals over the last four. A great response by the vet who I called out following last week's Devil disappointment. He finally is seeing the ice well and shooting at the right time, which will make us a much better club the rest of the way.

Before they could relax, a bad penalty from Mats Zuccarello led to Tim Brent breaking the shutout on a neat deflection from Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. One thing about the Canes. They play hard for Kirk Muller, who looks more and more like a great hire along with former Devil coach/current assistant John MacLean. They won't make the playoffs this season but should be competitive for years to come. Drayson Bowman made it two goals 32 seconds apart when he finished off a Brandon Sutter feed, stunning the crowd. Just like that, a three-goal lead became one with still four-plus minutes left. The Canes nearly tied it on a four-on-two rush but a big stop from Biron denied Staal.

Biron did the job until Hagelin tallied with seven minutes to go in the third. On the play, Ward had just denied Gaborik but he quickly fed Hagelin who snuck in from behind the net and surprised the scrambling former Conn Smythe winner with a wraparound. Both Gaborik and Richards picked up their 30th assists. It would be enough to hold off the Canes.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Martin Biron, NYR (27 saves for emergency win)
2nd Star-Brad Richards, NYR (2nd straight 2-goal game-22nd, 23rd, assist)
1st Star-Carl Hagelin, NYR (13th of season, 2 assists for 1st career 3-point game)

Notes: Hagelin has points in four of his last six (2-4-6) with a plus-six rating. He leads all rookies with a plus-23 and is tied with the Flyers' Sean Couturier for second in shorthanded goals (2) behind the Devils' Henrique (4). Of the rookie top eight scorers, only Nugent-Hopkins has played fewer games (49) than Hagelin (51). ... Richards has a four-game point streak (5-3-8) and has registered a point in six of eight games this month. He's 5-6-11 in 8 GP after finishing February 2-7-9 in 13 GP. ... Gaborik has six points (2-4-6) over his last three. He has seven goals over the last 11. ... It was the first time in seven games the Blueshirts permitted less than two goals also doing it on Mar.1 against the same Canes in a 3-2 win.

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