In the biggest game of the season, the 32-year-old showed why the Rangers signed him to a nine-year, $60 million contract last July. He scored 92 seconds into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Washington Capitals and was on the ice for the final 40 seconds protecting a one-goal lead in the Rangers' 2-1 victory that sent them to the conference final for the first time since 1997.
Richards spoke honestly afterward about how when he signed the big contract last summer, playing on a big stage like Madison Square Garden at this time of the season was his biggest motivation.
"It's a big reason. I'm not going to lie to you," Richards said. "I didn't know where we were going to be right now. It's great to get to play in these types of games in a great building like this with a lot of history. I can't predict if we're going to Game 7 in the first two rounds of the playoffs. That's something is a bonus as far as an experience I get to enjoy. That crowd tonight is a big reason for why I wanted to come here."
With a big contract comes bigger expectations, and Richards was well aware of them even if he has rarely discussed them since arriving in the world's biggest media market.
"I guess you know that, deep down. I don't talk about that, but that kind of goes without saying with the type of player I am," Richards said. "That's not something a player thinks about. I was brought here to help in a lot of different areas. I'm just trying to keep doing what I've been doing my whole career. I'm fortunate to have a good team to believe in me and get me here."
RANGERS VS. CAPITALS
Rangers outlast Capitals 2-1 in Game 7
By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer
Michael Del Zotto and Brad Richards scored and Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves as the Rangers edged the Capitals 2-1 in Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they will square off with the local rival New Jersey Devils. READ MORE ›
Richards' sixth goal of the postseason, a blast from the left circle that eluded the glove hand of goaltender Braden Holtby, put the Rangers ahead for good. He finished with four shots on goal and was on the ice for both Rangers' goals, but it's what he's done off the ice, as cliché as that can sound, that also played a role in the Game 7 victory.
During the Rangers' trip to Europe to open the season, Richards purchased what has been dubbed "The Broadway Hat," awarded to the team's best player following a victory. Richards donned it after the win Saturday night, but it just as easily could have gone to Michael Del Zotto, who scored the winner and has been taken under Richards' wing this season.
Del Zotto struggled mightily in his second season after a terrific rookie campaign, and wasn't exactly a lock to make the Rangers until Marc Staal was ruled out during training camp with a concussion. Richards has spent the season mentoring Del Zotto in the ways of being a professional on and off the ice -- and not getting to emotional one way or the other after a good or bad game.
Richards won't get an assist on Del Zotto's third-period goal, but the imprint he has made on the 21-year-old, who had 10 goals and 31 assists in the regular season and has two goals and six assists in 14 games during the postseason.
"He goes about his business. He's very confident in himself," Del Zotto said. "He knows what he can bring. He's a great leader out there. It doesn't matter what type of style of game we play -- he's there. He makes big plays offensively and defensively. I can't say enough about him.
"He just finds a way to make big plays in big games when we need him most. He's a leader. Tonight, getting that goal right away -- we talked about how we wanted the lead. It was going to help us out. We needed the crowd on our side. He pops that goal and he just always finds a way to get big goals. He's done it before and he showed up tonight and did it again."
Rangers center Brian Boyle didn't play a huge factor in the win -- he had a goal waved off in the third period that would've iced the contest -- but he said Richards was his biggest supporter during his struggles this season.
Boyle scored 21 goals in 82 games last season, a career-best. Things didn't go as smoothly this season, as he scored just six times in his first 73 games. But Boyle caught fire late in the regular season, scoring five times in his final nine regular-season games and adding three more goals during the first-round victory against the Ottawa Senators.
What left a mark on Boyle wasn't so much that Richards offered words of encouragement, but that Richards was able to remain positive despite suffering through some slumps of his own.
"He's been great for me," Boyle said. "I got down on myself when things weren't going in early. There were times when he wasn't scoring or doing what he wanted to do, not for long stretches but certain stretches. I wasn't either, but he's still that guy. I'm not saying he was playing bad. He just wanted more out of himself, and he was still there to help some of those guys through who were struggling, and I was one of them. He was big for me."
In the locker room and on the ice, the Rangers are extremely happy with the investment they made in Richards this summer.