When that line clicks, as it did in its debut Wednesday night, the Rangers can be remarkably dangerous. The Bruins are the first team to find that out the hard way.
Henrik Lundqvist called it a "game changer." And there is really no other way to describe the Rangers' new top line of Gaborik, Richards and Nash. (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Gaborik finished off a hat trick with a breakaway goal 26 seconds into overtime to give the Rangers their first win of the season. Nash and Richards each had assists on Gaborik's first goal of the night and together the line contributed five points and 15 shots on goal, not to mention the numerous chances that didn't result in a shot on goal.
They were fast across the entire ice sheet, strong on the puck, quick to the net, physical in the corners and on the ice quite a bit as they each played more than 20 minutes.
They were everything people thought they could be when Nash got traded to the Rangers last summer.
"I just don't like talking about it -- it's one game," Richards said in an attempt to cut off the hype in its infancy. "We gotta do it a lot more times than that and hopefully we can build off it."
They should get the chance.
Rangers coach John Tortorella didn't use the three well-paid stars together in the first two games, instead choosing to play Carl Hagelin with Richards and Nash and Gaborik with Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan.
It's hard to blame him considering those were the Rangers' top two lines, minus Nash of course, for most of the second half of last season and throughout the Rangers’ playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
However, after the Rangers started this season with regulation losses to Boston and Pittsburgh, Tortorella decided to switch things up.
"It's amazing to see," Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said. "They're all great players and when they're clicking that's a hard line to stop. There are some pretty high-class players on that line. It's not always going to be perfect, but as long as they're getting their chances and defending the right way they'll be pretty good."
The next question they'll have to answer is, can it last?
Tortorella certainly won't hesitate to change things up mid-game if he doesn't like what he's seeing, but Richards, Nash and Gaborik all think this line could have staying power because of how well they complement each other.
Richards is the voice of reason in the middle, the guy who essentially quarterbacks the line. Nash is the big body with skill who attracts defenses.
"He's really exciting to me as far as what he is going to be for this organization," Tortorella said of Nash.
And, of course, Gaborik, who moved to the left wing this season to accommodate Nash, is the pure goal scorer with hands that Lundqvist said are some of the best in the League around the net.
"It's amazing to see. They're all great players and when they're clicking that's a hard line to stop." -- Dan Girardi
He put them on display twice Wednesday, batting the puck into the net for both his first goal and his third goal.
Gaborik also showed on his second goal that he has no hesitation to go to the net to find pay dirt, something Tortorella didn't think he could do just a few years ago.
"He's a very talented player and he's willing to be there," Tortorella said, adding that he thinks at least 80 percent of Gaborik's 41 goals last season came from the area right around the net, "and when I first met him I didn't think he was willing to be there."
It helps that both Nash and Gaborik are proving to be interchangeable wingers. Nash is comfortable on the left side and up until now Gaborik had played on the right side for his entire career.
If they have to flip-flop during a shift they do without thinking. Richards also doesn't have to think about which side is his strong side because they both are.
"Once you're out there sometimes you get stuck on the other side, get all over the ice," Nash said. "So, we talk a lot before the game to understand each other's game."
But, yes, as Richards said, it is just one game and nobody in the Rangers' dressing room wants to get carried away with this just yet.
The true test of the line's chemistry will come over time. For one night at least it was the reason the Rangers won.
"That's a lot of firepower," Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "They're three of the best players in the League."