‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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When the New York Rangers signed Brad Richards in July, it was natural for Rangers fans to place high expectations on him.  After all, he’s long been considered one of the steadiest centers around the NHL and was coming off two terrific seasons in Dallas.

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The Rangers rewarded Richards with an extensive nine-year, $60 million dollar contract and immediately, pessimistic fans began to point to failed free agent signings of the past.  That skepticism was compacted when Richards didn’t produce immediately for the Rangers.

We’ve seen contracts often become a burden for players in this city.  This isn’t something exclusive to the Rangers but Scott Gomez and Wade Redden stick out as two Rangers who crumbled under weight of large contracts and the pressures of playing in New York.

Richards though, is a completely different animal.  There’s a reason why he’s been a steady NHL star for eleven seasons.  John Tortorella coached Richards during his first seven years in the league while they were together with the Tampa Bay Lightning and knows exactly what Richards brings to the table

There isn’t anyone who understands Richards’ mentality better than Tortorella and his words after Sunday’s overtime victory over the Islanders proved to be prophetic.

“He’s a great pro.  As I’ve said, I have a tremendous amount of faith in him.  If this is the time of year where he gets going on all cylinders, he’s going to help the team tremendously,” Tortorella said during Sunday’s post-game press conference.

Richards followed up Sunday’s two-goal, three-point performance with a duplicate effort against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.  F0r Richards, it’s now a scorching 13 points in his last 10 games.

During the second intermission, Rangers’ legend and MSG analyst Brian Leetch admitted that he jumped out of his seat after the Richards’ second goal of the game.  Carl Hagelin spun off his defender and made an unbelievable no-look pass to Richards who patiently received the puck, waited for his spot and rifled a wrist-shot top shelf.

Tortorella spoke about the improvement in Richards’ game after Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

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“Richie’s seeing the ice better.  Obviously, he’s the key.  That’s the biggest strength to his game, is seeing the ice.  I think he feels more confident there,” Tortorella stated post-game.

Richards, Hagelin and line-mate Marian Gaborik are developing an almost telepathic understanding of where each other is on the ice.

In Dallas, Richards took Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn under his wing.  Both have since developed into All-Star caliber players partially due to Richards’ influence and example.  Inside the Rangers’ locker room, Hagelin is now the young pupil soaking up Richards’ wisdom and positive work habits.

Hagelin spoke to MSG Networks’ John Giannone following the game.  “Richie’s taught me a lot about making different plays.  He’s been in the league a lot and he’s good at getting open.  So, I think I learn stuff everyday.  We’re good friends off the ice as well,” the 23-year-old revealed.

Richards’ abilities on the ice and inside the locker room have now reached an even level to the point that he’s become an indispensable piece of the Rangers.  With Ryan Callahan missing time due to a troublesome bruised right foot, Richards has accepted the responsibility of inspiring the Rangers in Callahan’s absence.

He’s already had his share of memorable moments in a Rangers uniform.  Some fans will point to his game-winning goal at the Winter Classic or his buzzer-beating overtime winner in Phoenix but I firmly believe his best moment of the season is still to come.

Richards has rediscovered his best play at the most important point of the season.

It will be particularity intriguing to see if he can continue his stellar performances against playoff-type opponents in upcoming games against the Penguins, Devils and Red Wings.

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Rangers fans, is Richards living up to the faith that the Rangers placed upon him?  Will he inspire the Blueshirts toward locking up first place in the Eastern Conference?  Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.