Rangers

Hartnett: Dominant First Line Could Put Rangers Over The Top

Top Line Catching Fire Key To Blueshirts' Playoff Success
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Marian Gaborik (credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images) , Brad Richards (credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Marian Gaborik (credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images) , Brad Richards (credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Brad Richards dug out Ryan McDonagh’s pass along the boards and with a quick flick of his wrists, he found a cutting Marian Gaborik who didn’t need any invitation to bury the puck into the net.

Wild goaltender Josh Harding had no chance. You could almost feel sorry for him. Richards made a crisp, backhanded no-look pass directly onto the tape of Gaborik’s stick as the Slovakian ace sneaked behind the Minnesota defense and only had Harding to beat one-on-one.

I’ve seen Richards execute successful no-look passes so many times this season that I’ve almost become accustomed to seeing it on a nightly basis. Yet, by the same token, I’m still left with my jaw on the floor every time.

The kind of hockey sense that Richards possesses is a rarity. Few players around the league can match Richards’ aptitude for pulling off dazzling passes. Other names that spring to mind are Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton and Claude Giroux.

Unlike the three players I mentioned, Richards hasn’t had the benefit of playing with the same teammates for multiple seasons. Richards is only just beginning to strike up a partnership with linemates Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin.

The scary part for opponents is that this line can only get better. Hagelin has cooled off lately but we saw earlier this month just how dangerous he can be. The Swede put together an impressive run of 7 points in 4 games but has suffered through a current four-game point drought.

Gaborik meanwhile, has broken out of a similar four-game slump to score 3 goals in 4 games and is on his way to reaching the 40-goal mark for the third time in his NHL career. Only Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin have put the puck in the net more often than Gaborik this season.

For Richards, March has unquestionably been his best month as a Ranger. Through 15 games this month, he’s collected an impressive 18 points. Gaborik’s 16 points in 15 March games  is also a seasonal best and despite his slump, Hagelin’s 10 points during March is also his best month.

A mouth-watering prospect for Rangers fans is the thought of all three linemates hitting their groove as the playoffs near. Consistent scoring has been an issue for the Blueshirts all year. They sit in 11th place among NHL teams in goals scored.

If the Hagelin-Richards-Gaborik line can catch fire during the playoffs, it may be the final ingredient needed for the Rangers to make a deep playoff run. The Rangers have only given up 170 goals against, a Conference-best statistic that is only bettered by the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings.

That’s a credit to the Rangers’ stingy blueliners, excellent penalty killers and of course, the exceptional goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist and capable backup Martin Biron. All three of these factors have made the Rangers what they are but a sure-fire top line is what can propel the Rangers to the next level.

Is a consistent-scoring top line the final piece needed for the Rangers to go deep in the playoffs? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.

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