- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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Rangers backup goaltender Martin Biron was perusing Wayne Gretzky's playoff numbers recently when he came across a staggering statistic.
It didn’t belong to The Great One but rather to Biron's teammate, Brad Richards.
En route to his Conn Smythe Trophy-earning performance in 2004, Richards tallied an NHL-record seven game-winning playoff goals during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup championship season.
Biron shared the number with his teammates, and fittingly, Richards added another pressure-cooker goal to his career totals Monday. With 6.6 seconds left in regulation and the Rangers trailing 2-1 in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, Richards beat Caps netminder Braden Holtby for one of the most thrilling goals in franchise history.
“He’s a clutch player. We were actually talking about it in the room [Monday],” said defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who assisted on the goal. “Anytime there is a big play, he’s there to make it.”
It was that intrinsic big-game, big-goal quality that prompted the Rangers to court the coveted center in free agency in July, and it paid dividends again Monday as the Rangers took a 3-2 series lead after his stunning equalizer led the Rangers to a 3-2 overtime win.
Why does he seem to have a knack for stepping up in the most nerve-fraying moments?
“He’s got it,” said John Tortorella, who coached Richards with the Lightning from 2001-08. “I’ve known him since he was a kid, when he broke into the league, and he’s made big plays at key times.”
A player who thrives in the spotlight, Richards chose the Rangers and the bright lights of Broadway among his many clamoring suitors last July. Inking a nine-year, $60 million contract, he joined the team as a natural veteran leader and embraced the opportunity to mentor some of the younger players.
The opportunity was a rare one, and one that lured him to Eighth Avenue, but it also brought heightened pressure for the 32-year-old to perform up to mammoth expectations.
“It’s never been fun to lose,” Richards said. “I probably take it home with me a little too much, but that’s part of the experience of growing up. This is new; you want to make a good first impression. You’re new to the team and organization, so sometimes you think about that a little too much, but you just rely on good teammates that have been great all year.”
“It’s not just me,” he said. “Everybody’s picked each other up.”
It was his turn Monday, and he did not disappoint.
“He never lets the nerves get to him and he always produces when you need him,” Del Zotto said. “You watch any game and you see some guys get a little nervous and start fighting the puck when a big play is needed. A guy like him just gets better and better the deeper the game goes on and when you need a big play. He proved it again [Monday]. He just has that ability to find the back of the net when you need him the most.
“You see 19 open and you want to get him the puck.”
4dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald