Brad Richards was targeted in free agency by the Rangers last summer because of his skill, experience and leadership.
Richards’ attributes coalesced with 6.6 seconds left in regulation of Game 5 to give the Rangers control of their conference semifinal series with Washington.
Throughout their remarkable regular season, the Rangers spoke in matter-of-fact fashion about finding a way to win a game.
Last night, Richards’ tying goal gave the Rangers life and set the stage for Marc Staal’s game-winning power play goal 1:30 into overtime.
The Rangers are one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference finals after a 3-2, come from behind win, over the Capitals at the Garden. Game 6 is tomorrow night at the Verizon Center.
"Obviously you're up a game and can eliminate them, so you have a little bit of an advantage," John Mitchell said of the Rangers' series lead. Mitchell's offensive zone faceoff win in OT allowed Staal the time to fire what would be the game-winning shot past Braden Holtby (35 saves).
"But that doesn't mean we can say 'Oh, we don't have to win Game 6,'" Mitchell added. "We're going in there with just as much desperation as if we down three games to two."
In a mirror-image series, it has been a team or individual mistake that has determined winners and losers. Joel Ward’s four-minute minor for high sticking Carl Hagelin late in the third gave the Rangers an opportunity to tie and later win the game.
Richards and Staal scored the Rangers' two power play goals on Ward's penalty. The Rangers went 2-for-4 with the man advantage.
"It's good. It's always good after a win," Hagelin said with a still-swollen lip from the high stick. "I'll take as many cuts as it takes to win. Lucky the ref saw it and the [power play] did a great job capitalizing on their chances."
What Rangers head coach John Tortorella lamented was that the Rangers were unable to expand on an early lead. The Rangers outshot Washington by a 2-to-1 margin, 36-18.
"They came out pretty hard," Capitals head coach Dale Hunter said of the Rangers. "They were throwing pucks in corners and just throwing everything on the net. They were shooting from everywhere."
Depite the Rangers’ 26-10 advanage in shots, the teams entered the third deadlocked at 1-1. Anton Stralman potted the only marker of the opening stanza with a wrister that eluded Braden Holtby at 10:44. Brooks Laich equalized at 8:15 of the second, while John Carlson gave the Caps their only lead of the game 4:20 into the third.
"It just leaves the door open. Tonight we were fortunate enough to open the door and find a way to win," said Tortorella.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.