With a playoff spot now clinched, the Blueshirts played like a team poised for the postseason with a decisive victory against a Hurricanes team that served them up with a humiliating defeat in the last meeting.
Veteran center Brad Richards tallied twice and Martin St. Louis finished with three assists as the Rangers added another two points in hopes of securing home-ice advantage when the playoffs begin next week.
Power surge: The Rangers’ power play has dipped a bit as of late following a dramatic turnaround from last season -- the unit was 0-for-7 over the past two games -- but the man-advantage was potent Tuesday night with Richards notching two goals.
Richards knotted the score at 1 in the first period with his shot from the left faceoff dot and then gave the Rangers a two-goal lead in the second with a deep slapper, which was his 20th goal of the season. That’s not just encouraging for the team’s special teams momentum heading into the playoffs, it’s vital for the alternate captain’s confidence as well. Richards has had a strong bounce-back season after a lockout-shortened 2013 that was nothing short of devastating for the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
Richards, who spent the last two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring watching from the press box as a healthy scratch, posted the 10th 20-goal season of his career and second as a New York Ranger.
It probably didn’t help to get his good buddy St. Louis back on the score sheet, either. St. Louis, who has struggled to produce since landing with the Rangers on trade deadline day earlier this month, picked up an assist on each of Richards’ man-up goals.
Extra Effort: With spark plug winger Ryan Callahan now playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning after a stunning trade-deadline deal, the 2014 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award went to a new recipient this year.
Mats Zuccarello was honored as this year’s winner before Tuesday’s game, and for good reason.
The small, agitating forward has had a career season for the Rangers with 19 goals and 58 points. He has also become a fan favorite for his uncanny ability to antagonize opponents despite his diminutive frame.
The annual award, which began in 1998, recognizes the player that goes “above and beyond the call of duty,” as voted by the fans. It is named after NYPD officer Steven McDonald, who was paralyzed after being shot in the call of duty in July 1986.
Up Next: In the Rangers’ penultimate game of the regular season, they will play host to a downtrodden Buffalo Sabres team that has floundered all season. It will be their last game at Madison Square Garden before the playoffs begin; the Rangers conclude the season against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday night.