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Hartnett: Richards Can Be Rangers’ X-Factor As NHL Playoffs Near

Lundqvist On Richards: 'He's Heating Up At The Right Time.'
Brad Richards (credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Brad Richards (credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

For much of the 2013 NHL season, Rangers fans pointed the finger at under-performing alternate captain Brad Richards.

Some were eager to accuse Richards of a lack of fire and desperation. In reality, Richards was taking his influence on a sub-par Rangers season very personally. The Rangers were failing to meet their season targets, and Richards was dissatisfied with his diminished production and lackluster play.

It wasn’t long ago — last Tuesday — that it all boiled over for Richards after the Blueshirts were handed a demoralizing 4-2 loss in Philadelphia. After speaking to the media, a despondent Richards sat alone in his locker stall with his head in his hands. Teammate Ryan McDonagh walked across to room to sit with Richards to offer support.

From that point, something changed. Things finally began clicking for the 32-year-old veteran briefly nicknamed “Broadway Brad.” In his past three games, Richards has collected four goals, three assists and seven points. Two of Richards’ assists came in Sunday’s 4-1 victory that eliminated the New Jersey Devils from playoff contention.

“I struggle with frustration sometimes,” Richards admitted on Sunday. “When you get a few bounces, you don’t go home frustrated. You wake up a little more positive, and you go to work in a better frame of mind — and that’s kinda what happened this week.”

Teammates Seeing A Change In Richards’ Play

McDonagh sees a noticeable difference in Richards’ play. At a crucial stage in the season, Richards is finally playing with the kind of confidence that made him an indispensable member of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars.

“He’s starting to see the ice. I think he’s always been able to make plays and get the puck in the hands of guys for scoring chances. It just seems now, guys are executing and bearing the goals for him,” McDonagh said. “He’s been creating offense without getting the points at times this year and now, he’s just able to click at little bit more.”

McDonagh hails Richards’ example on all areas of the ice.

“He’s been there before in these stretches where you’re trying to make the playoffs. He leads by example in both areas – defensively and offensively. It’s great to see him contributing,” McDonagh said.

Henrik Lundqvist believes Richards is finding his game at the perfect time.

“He’s looking great,” Lundqvist said. “Last couple weeks, he’s making some great plays, he feels like he’s reading the game really well and he’s scoring a lot of goals and setting up guys for goals. He’s heating up at the right time and it’s great to see.”

One player benefiting from Richards’ resurgence is linemate Taylor Pyatt. Richards was the provider on the Rangers’ third goal when Pyatt beat Martin Brodeur’s glove with a heated blast.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Pyatt said. “It’s definitely nice to be playing on his wing. He set me up with a great pass there. I feel like our line has played well the past few games.”

With the Devils eliminated, the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets are the only team pushing the Rangers on the playoff bubble. The Rangers could finish as high as fifth place in a tight battle with three games remaining in the regular season.

“The odds are much better now,” Richards said of the Rangers potentially making the playoffs.

As Lundqvist mentioned, Richards is “heating up at the right time.” Having Richards continue this pace will ensure the Rangers’ passage into the playoffs.

Should Richards continue to fire on all cylinders ahead of the playoffs, it would be a huge boost for the Blueshirts. We all know Lundqvist is capable of standing on his head on any given night. But the Rangers dropped a lot of winnable games this season when Lundqvist has been sensational.

A rejuvenated Richards could be a huge X-factor for the Rangers during this home stretch — and once the playoffs get underway.

Has Richards ‘flipped the switch’? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.