TORONTO - This is what the New York Rangers envisioned when they signed Brad Richards to shine in Manhattan beside their star sniper Marian Gaborik.
Richards set up Gaborik twice, including a highlight-reel goal in the third period, to lead the Rangers to a 4-3 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With the game tied 2-2 early in the third, Richards stretched to stay onside, picked up the puck and then saucered a pass between the Leafs’defenceman to a streaking Gaborik. The speedy Slovak blew around the outside, picked up the pass in stride and snuck it between the pads of Jonas Gustavsson for his second goal of the game.
“I was just buying time so he could beat the guy,”Richards said.“I wanted to go there the whole time, but if I threw it there right away it wasn’t going to get to him. I had to give him time to take off, and his first few strides are the best in the league.
“I just tried to give him time to beat the guy to the net and he did a great job burying it.”
The Rangers knew they getting one of the premier centres in the game when they signed Richards to a nine-year, US$60-million deal. But they were hoping his presence would bring also bring out the best in Gaborik after a subpar 2010-11 campaign.
Gaborik has 37 goals after scoring just 22 last season.
Of his 37, seven have been game winners, tied for 10th in that category. Of those, three have come in overtime, second-best in the league behind Steven Stamkos’four.
“(Richards) made a nice play there not to go offside and I knew he was going to go back and I was going to have it on my tape,”Gaborik said.“Those are the plays we have to do a little more often wherever, in the neutral zone or the offensive zone, because those little give-and-goes, we’re quick enough to make them work.”
The game wasn’t all roses for Richards and Gaborik. Despite having four points between them, they finished with only an even plus-minus rating after being on the ice for a pair of Leafs goals.
After the game, Rangers coach John Tortorella wasn’t about to let his star players off the hook for their defensive lapses.
“They have to play a little defence, too, and they’re both capable of doing that,”Tortorella said.“The third goal is probably one of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen, as far as what Richie did at the blueline–to stay onside, get the puck and then saucer one to Gabby. It was just one helluva goal.
“But they can’t get scored on twice by their fourth line.”