NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers’ comeback effort Monday night was particularly notable because of the players they essentially lacked in a 4-3 overtime win against the Phoenix Coyotes at Madison Square Garden.
Coach Alain Vigneault was critical of himself following the team’s fourth consecutive victory, lamenting his own decision to let Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan play despite their obvious illnesses.
Both players missed Monday’s morning skate with the flu but arrived to the rink insistent upon playing. Vigneault let them but regretted it after the game.
“I made a mistake,” he said. “I shouldn’t have played Marty and Step. I should’ve taken that out of their hands.”
With the two not able to play at full strength, Vigneault limited St. Louis and Stepan’s minutes to 11:04 and 07:04, respectively. He was thus forced to rely on other players to shoulder extra ice time and fill the void.
"At the end of the day, I’ve got to be better," Vigneault said. "I’ve got to take that [decision] out of their hands because they had no energy."
One of the players who stepped up with the two top-six forwards ailing was alternate captain Brad Richards, who played one of his better games of the season. Richards, who played 21:34, got the scoring started with an expert tip of Carl Hagelin’s shot in the second period, but he was stingy defensively in his own end as well.
It was the type of veteran leadership the Rangers needed at the time, and it helped Richards snap out of his recent rut of subpar play.
“Down two-nothing and Step and Marty were both dying on the bench,” Richards said. “It takes a lot for them to have to sit back and watch. But with that, you get more responsibility, more ice and you’ve got to grab it. Our line did a great job tonight.”
Richards said the performance will allow him to "sleep a lot better tonight."
The Rangers, too.
“This was one of his best games at both sides of the rink,” Vigneault said of the veteran center. “He might not have been on the score sheet but he was doing what he needed to do defensively and was in the right spots. Tonight, after he scored that goal, his play seemed to pick up. He seemed to have more energy. I used him more and he did what he had to do to help us win this game.”