The Rangers got exactly what they deserved Wednesday night.
“I thought we played a good game,” John Tortorella said after the Rangers’ pulsating 2-1 overtime win over the Red Wings at the Garden. The win was the Rangers’ first against Detroit since Oct. 25, 2003.
With the win, the Rangers increased their conference lead to three points, 99-96, over Pittsburgh. The Rangers have nine games left this season while Pittsburgh has 10. The Penguins host Western Conference contender Nashville tomorrow night. There is a possibility that Alexander Radulov will dress in that game for the Predators.
Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan scored for the Rangers. Callahan’s bomb over Ty Conklin (32 saves) 2:42 into overtime was the game-winner. It was also his 27th of the season and it occurred on his 27th birthday.
“It’s a good gift, I guess,” Callahan said. “[Michael Del Zotto] finds me in the middle and I’m trying to go back against the seam.”
Henrik Zetterberg (3:36) and Richards (14:58) traded goals in the first. The teams then went 47:43 spanning the three periods and overtime until Callahan’s eighth game-winning goal of the season.
“He just had an unbelievable third period,” Tortorella said of Callahan. “He does so much for the hockey club. It’s fitting he gets the winning goal.”
Despite spotting Detroit the quick lead, the Rangers were the stronger team throughout. The Rangers outshot the Red Wings, 34-27, despite playing Detroit’s style of game. More importantly than the shots on goal, the Rangers possessed the puck against the puck-possession Red Wings.
“That’s fair to say,” Callahan said. “It was a bit more of a skating game [than Monday’s win over the Devils]. At the same time, I think we played that game well.”
Richards drew the Rangers even at 1-1 with his 24th of the season. With the Rangers on the power play, he carried the puck on an end-to-end rush while the Red Wings did not even offer even a nominal challenge.
After gaining the offensive zone, Richards snapped a shot through Conklin’s five hole as Niklas Kronwall half-heartedly attempted to poke-check the puck off his stick.
“I looked up and they tried to take away the delay,” Richards said. “I just tried to take my ice to see what would happen, if someone would come to me. I had a head of steam and a lot of ice to play on.
“You just see the ice and start making plays that happen.”
By his admission, Richards’s first season as a Ranger has not gone as he envisioned. Still, his 57 points rank second on the team and his 24 goals are third.
Tortorella has routinely reiterated his belief that “it is a mistake” to evaluate Richards by statistics. Instead, the coach has praised the “subtle” plays Richards has made throughout the year.
Yet Richards’ offensive production has improved in the season’s penultimate month. He now has six goals and nine assists for 15 points in 12 games.
“When you get a few you start to feel better about yourself,” Richards said. “It’s March, under 10 games left. You want to contribute; you want to help your teammates. I think the whole team is starting to feel better in the last few games. It’s a good time of year to start feeling that way.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.