When the Rangers signed Brad Richards last summer, one of the many reasons given was the way Richards helped the Lightning during their run to a Stanley Cup title.
Richards won the Conn Smythe for his work under John Tortorella during that playoff run, and his leadership was cited as an important addition to a young Rangers team. There were several points during the regular season where we saw Richards excel under pressure, but the team never needed him more than they needed him in Monday night's Game Six.
Richards delivered and the Rangers lived to fight another day after a 3-2 victory in Ottawa. Game Seven will be at a raucous Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
With the Rangers down 1-0 almost halfway through the second period of another game that was being controlled by the Senators, Richards decided he had enough and took matters into his own hands. On the power play, Richards held the puck for long stretches while waving his hand to get his teammates into the proper position.
Derek Stepan complied, perching himself on the doorstep of the Senators' net and poking home a feed from Richards for the Rangers' first goal since the first period of Game Four. It was the first time in ages that the Rangers forced Craig Anderson to move side-to-side while also crowding the net, and the move paid off with a crucial goal.
That goal shifted the balance that we'd been seeing for the majority of three games with the Rangers gaining confidence and the Senators getting sloppy. That would help create Richards' second highlight of the evening.
An excellent Rangers penalty kill led to a penalty on Ottawa, which was followed up by a highly questionable goalie interference call to create a 5-on-3 for the Rangers that Richards punctuated with a shot past Anderson for a 2-1 Rangers lead. All the air was out of Ottawa's lungs, something that led to the backbreaker.
The Senators botched their defensive coverage of a Marc Staal dump-in, and Stepan was able to control the puck coming off the back boards. Chris Kreider, the rookie who debuted in Game Three of the series, cut into the zone and deposited a perfect feed into the net for his first NHL goal.
Kreider played a very strong game -- strong enough that it is hard to see him leaving the lineup even after Brian Boyle returns to action, and Stepan's game was by far his best of the six playoff games. He had a goal and two assists on the night that was nearly as good as the one Richards put together.
There will never be anything like Mark Messier's Game Six in the Meadowlands 18 years ago, but Richards' was about as close as we've seen since that magical night. It was a big-time performance by a guy brought to town just for that reason.
Henrik Lundqvist made some spectacular saves to help the lead stand up. A strange replay call allowed a Senators goal kicked in by Chris Neil to stand in the final minute of the game, but the Rangers made a couple more plays in their own end and skated off as winners.
That means Game Seven, and it means that the old barn on Seventh Avenue is going to be the hottest place in New York City on Thursday night. We haven't seen one like this in a good long time, so strap yourselves in and enjoy one of sport's greatest spectacles.