NEW YORK -- Brad Richards is sick and tired of answering questions about his recent struggles. Perhaps his heroics on Thursday night will put an end to the inquiries, at least for the time being.
The Rangers' $60 million man scored with 2:23 left in overtime to complete a 4-3 comeback victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. It was Richards' second goal and fourth point in the past 13 games.
"It felt good," said Richards of his 17th goal of the season. "Maybe now you guys can stop talking about it."
Richards signed a nine-year deal with the Rangers this offseason and made an impact right away with 11 goals and 14 assists in his first 27 games. But he has cooled considerably, posting just five goals and four assists in 24 games before Thursday.
Coach John Tortorella said some of Richards' slumping can be attributed to getting comfortable in his system.
"I think he's playing better defensively," Tortorella said. "It's a bit of an adjustment to him, how much concentration we do have defensively here. He'll get through it. Don't give up on that guy."
The Lightning entered the third period with a 3-2 lead on the strength of goals from Steven Stamkos, his League-leading 36th, Vincent Lecavalier and Bruno Gervais. But the Rangers' Brian Boyle tied it with 9:47 left in regulation, helping the team improve to 4-9-1 when trailing after two periods.
It may not seem like an impressive mark, but only three teams have a better winning percentage in the same situation this season.
"I think it's a mindset," Tortorella said. "I think if you have some success, and we have that success in the third period, you try to go back on that to make yourself feel good. I thought we were playing well through the game. We talked about that between periods and wanted to keep going."
The Rangers had two chances to tie it on the power play early in the third period, but they came up empty after Ryan Callahan scored the team's first 5-on-4 goal since Jan. 5 in the second period. A friendly bounce not long after the second power play failed helped pull the Rangers into a tie.
With the puck in the Lightning zone, Carl Hagelin tried to move it deeper but Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman got his stick on the attempt. The puck ricocheted into the slot to Boyle, who fired it past goaltender Mathieu Garon to knot the game at 3-3.
"I saw it kind of spinning like a top there and kind of out of the reach of two guys," Boyle said. "I couldn't believe it was out of their reach because those usually get poked away before I swing at them this year. I just hammered it as hard as I could. I said in the pile with Carl and the other guys, 'I can't believe it went in.' "
The first Rangers' power play of the third period came as a result of a Dominic Moore hit on Ruslan Fedotenko, who had to be helped to the locker room after staying down on the ice for a couple of minutes. Moore was called for roughing on a hit that made direct contact with Fedotenko's head.
Following the game, the Rangers were upset with the hit, which came not long after Fedotenko hit Moore on the same shift.
"That was a really, really dirty play," Boyle said. "I think we've talked about it enough, that we have to get away from that stuff. He should take a look in the mirror because that was garbage. It was right to his head. It's a physical game, but you can't do that."
"If we want to keep doing that to each other, we're going to keep having problems," Richards said. "It's idiotic."
Moore said there was no intent to his hit and it had nothing to do with his collision with Fedotenko earlier.
“To be honest, I was coming into the slot and trying to make myself available for a shot,’’ Moore said. “Their guy, and I didn’t know who it was until after, tried to come over and take me away. I was just trying to compete for body position and I guess he wasn’t ready for that.’’
Stamkos scored the game's first goal with 1:04 left in the first period on the Lightning's fourth shot. The play was started by a Richards turnover -- one that Tortorella absolved him of after the game -- and ended with Stamkos scoring through the legs of Martin Biron as he was being hooked to the ice by defenseman Anton Stralman.
Biron allowed three goals on 17 shots -- a performance Tortorella thought was a little up and down -- but made two big stops on Stamkos with the game tied late in the third period.
"Obviously this Tampa Bay team can create a lot of offense, so they were buzzing at times," Biron said. "But I think the big thing, for myself included, was just to stick with it and try to make that next save. That was good for us."
The Rangers erased the one-goal deficit with two goals in 54 seconds to start the second period. Callahan redirected a Michael Del Zotto shot from the blue line past Garon for his 18th goal to make it 1-1, and Derek Stepan put the Rangers on top with the teams playing 4-on-4 by sweeping a rebound past Garon at 5:48.
Before Stepan's goal could be announced, a persistent Lecavalier gathered his own rebound and backhanded the puck into the crease, where it deflected off Callahan and into the net 21 seconds after the Rangers had gone ahead.
Gervais converted a power-play goal at 12:26 to cap a wild second period and give the Lightning a 3-2 advantage.
The Lightning were 15-1-0 when leading after two periods, but they couldn't finish the Rangers. Even with the overtime loss, the Lightning are 6-1-2 in their last nine games and climbing toward the playoff picture.
"We've only lost one regulation game in nine games, so we are playing well," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "We're making it hard. We're fighting. Our players are finding ways to win or get points against Boston, the Rangers -- tough teams. For us, we need to keep moving."
The Lightning are 10 points back of eighth-place Toronto and nine points behind the Florida Panthers, who lead the Southeast Division. The Rangers opened a five-point lead on the Bruins for first place in the East.
If Richards can rediscover his game, the Rangers might be able to extend that lead even further.
"It's just been a grind the last month and a half," Richards said. "It's tough. It weighs on you, but little by little, I'm working on it. I have a lot of work left, but it's always fun to win and when the team's winning, it gets you by a whole lot better than if you're losing."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
1 - 0 TBL
Michael Del Zotto
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NYR
2 - 2 Tie
Martin St. Louis
3 - 2 TBL
3 - 3 Tie
Michael Del Zotto
4 - 3 NYR
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Martin St. Louis