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X-Factor: Richards' experience could propel Rangers

by Tal Pinchevsky

It may seem redundant calling a Conn Smythe Trophy winner a key piece for the New York Rangers as they enter the Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils.

But in a postseason that has seen its share of unbelievable moments, Rangers center Brad Richards has had a knack for being in the right place. It's something he's done throughout his career.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have crowned numerous big-game heroes, but few players left in this year's postseason have had more clutch performances than Richards. It's easy to lose sight of that because he's competing in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, when he led the Stars to the Western Conference Finals, but his career has been full of big plays.

Richards' flair for the dramatic started during his Stanley Cup run with Tampa Bay in 2004. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Philadelphia, Richards assisted on both goals in a 2-1 Bolts win.

In Game 6 of the Cup Final against Calgary, with the Flames leading the series 3-2 and the Lightning desperate for a victory, Richards scored twice before assisting on Martin St. Louis' overtime winner in a 3-2 win in Calgary. The Lightning would win the Cup in seven games, going 9-0 in the playoffs when Richards scored a goal.

Brad Richards
Brad Richards
Center - NYR
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 10
SOG: 48 | +/-: -1
Four years later, in his last playoff appearance prior to this season, Richards looked like he might have a similar run with the Stars, who acquired him that year at the trade deadline. Against the eventual Cup champion Red Wings, Richards would star again in the Western Conference Finals.

With the Stars down 2-0 in the series, Richards scored the tying goal in Game 3, leading the Stars in shots in a crushing loss. Even with the Stars down three games, Richards wasn't done yet. He assisted on Mike Modano's game-winner in Game 4 and set up Trevor Daley's opening score in Game 5 on a beautiful between-the-legs pass. The two wins gave Dallas new life, but the Wings would prevail in Game 6 on their way to winning the Cup.

This year, Richards has led the Rangers in playoff scoring and shown why the team signed him to a nine-year deal over the summer.

After recording just one goal in the first five games of the opening-round series against Ottawa, Richards came up big for the Rangers in Game 6, providing a goal and an assist in a crucial 3-2 win. The Rangers would advance in seven games and Richards would save his biggest plays for the second round.

After setting up Marian Gaborik's triple-overtime winner in Game 3 against Washington, Richards scored what might go down as one of the great goals in Rangers history as his scrambling shot eluded Braden Holtby to tie Game 5 with 6.6 seconds left in regulation. Marc Staal then scored in overtime to give the Rangers the pivotal win.

Already with a career's worth of clutch plays to his name, Richards could be set to add a brand-new chapter with the Rangers.

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