Before the Rangers' 4-3 OT win over the Lightning, coach John Tortorella said Brad Richards just needed “something good to happen to him.”
He got his wish.
Snapping his offensive slump, Richards delivered his team-leading seventh game-winning goal of the season to edge his former team with 2:27 to play in overtime. Heading into Thursday’s match with only one goal over the previous 12 games, Richards tallied his 17th of the season to boost the Rangers to a comeback win.
“It’s tough, it weighs on you,” Richards said about his recent struggles. “Just happy to be part of it tonight, to help the team win.”
Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto batted a loose puck out of the air to keep it in zone and dished off to Artem Anisimov, who found Richards for the diving score.
The 31-year-old was mobbed by his teammates along the end-boards in a triumphant celebration.
“I couldn’t even get to him,” said goaltender Martin Biron, who gave up three goals on 17 shots. “I had to plow in there because everybody was really happy for Brad. He’s been a huge influence, a positive influence for the guys in the locker room and guys on the ice.”
Tortorella, who coached the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner in Tampa when the two won a Stanley Cup together in 2004, has seen the extraordinary pressure Richards has placed on himself.
But he has seen him come through in the clutch too many times to lose faith in the elite center.
“Don’t give up on that guy,” Tortorella said. “It’d be the wrong thing to do.”
The come-from-behind victory was a relief for a Rangers squad that was down following Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss to the Devils, when the team had what would’ve been a game-tying goal negated by a goaltender interference call with less than four seconds left in the game.
The Rangers bounced back from the disheartening defeat, and they did so thanks to one of their top players.
Richards has fought through peaks and valleys throughout his short tenure on Broadway, but Thursday night he delivered exactly when the Rangers needed him.
“He’s scored big goals for us. Sometimes it’s not how many, it’s when.”