The difference in the routes Chris Kreider and Brad Richards took to the Rangers are vast. One is a draft selection, developed off Broadway and made an untouchable. The other a veteran free agent brought in to nurture a team ready to compete at the NHL’s highest level.
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals showed why the organization holds them both in high esteem.
“They come up with some big plays to get the last two goals for us to put us in the driver’s seat,” Dan Girardi said of Kreider and Richards. The twosome scored goals in a 90-second span to key the Rangers’ 3-1 win over the Capitals Saturday afternoon at the Garden.
The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 1-0. Game 2 is Monday night at the Garden. The Rangers entered the mid-afternoon matinee having had lost eight of their last 10 playoff games against the Capitals.
“Kreids comes in and he has a lot of offensive talent,” Girardi said. “And the reason we got Richie is that he is a proven performer, a big point guy for us.”
The goals scored by Kreider and Richards were glimpses of offensive genius in a game that was defined by defense and physicality. The Rangers (14) and Capitals (18) combined for 32 shots on goal in the match and Ryan Callahan led both teams with eight hits.
Kreider’s go-ahead goal seven minutes into the third reiterated why he is the franchise’s crown jewel. He hammered a drive past Braden Holtby to break a 1-1 tie. The play began with Kreider outracing Roman Hamrlik to a loose puck at center ice. Kreider crossed the blue line and cranked a slapper before Mike Green could get over to block the shot.
“It’s just amazing how he can skate out there [and] make things happen,” Girardi said. “I pinch myself watching him on the bench. I don’t know how someone can skate that fast and so powerful.”
Added Richards: “It’s a pretty high level he jumps into.”
When asked if he ever had a teammate who made a similar leap, Richards said, “No, not in the middle of a playoff run.”
Richards increased the lead to 3-1 at 8:30 after walking in off the boards and snapping a shot past Holtby. Along the half-wall, Kreider chipped the puck up to Richards, who skated towards Holtby without challenge.
“Haven’t played in too many playoff series where it’s wide open, run-and-gun hockey,” Richards said. “It was kind of a broken play. Kreids took a hit so I got a step. I was looking at [Marian Gaborik], but they kind of stayed with Gabby, so I kind of got something on net; saw a little opening.”
The Rangers and Caps entered the third period tied as Artem Anisimov and Jason Chimera traded goals in the middle frame. Anisimov’s first goal of the playoff season at 12:38 of the second period opened the scoring. Anisimov and linemate Ruslan Fedotenko won puck battles along the end boards eventually leading to the Russian center gaining control. He skated out to the low slot then threw a shot that pinballed into the cage. Jason Chimera drew the Caps even at 19:54 by tapping Brooks Laich’s cross-ice feed past Henrik Lundqvist (17 saves).
Despite the low shot totals, both teams had opportunities to take control of Game 1. The Rangers came out flying in the game’s first 10 minutes and their forecheck kept the Caps pinned in their own end.
Washington survived the surge. Early in the second period, the Capitals were granted a 5-on-3 power play for 1:27 due to a holding call on Marc Staal and a questionable boarding penalty to Brandon Prust. Callahan and Girardi had four of the Rangers’ five blocks on the penalty kill. Fedotenko had the other block.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.