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Richards and the clutch touch

Posted By Carp On May 9, 2012 @ 5:52 pm In Hockey,New York Rangers,NHL | 49 Comments

Here’s Josh (age 26) Thomson’s story from The Journal News and LoHud.com today:

By Josh Thomson, 26

NEW YORK — With a young team on the verge of contending in the Eastern Conference, John Tortorella found himself motivated to land Brad Richards as a free agent.

The 32-year old was a champion and a former Conn Smythe winner who’d earned Tortorella’s trust in moments that separate those who lift Stanley Cups from others who simply dream of it.

“He’s got ‘it,’ ” Tortorella said. “I’ve known him since he was a kid when he broke into the league. He’s just made big plays at key times.”

That included an NHL-record seven game-winning goals during Tampa Bay’s 2004 run to the Cup, a victory that helped put the Conn Smythe in his hands and the Cup in Tortorella’s. He added nine more game-winners his first season on Broadway and, on Monday night, arguably the signature goal of this postseason when he tied the score with 7.6 seconds to play in Game 5.

“I definitely haven’t seen everything,” said Richards, who stunned the Coyotes in Phoenix with 0.1 seconds remaining on Dec. 17. “Last night was a new experience for me, too.”

The centerman now leads the Rangers with 10 points through 12 playoff games, including an assist on Marian Gaborik’s triple-overtime winner in Game 3.

His success in the biggest moments comes as little surprise to his coach, who expected nothing less after what they’ve achieved together.

“There’s a relationship there. I’m not going to hide from that at all,” Tortorella said. “He’s done a lot of great things and helped teams that I’ve coached win. When you get involved in that and you go through the ups and downs of that — and him and I have — sure you’re going to develop a relationship.”

That bond meant Tortorella’s faith never wavered during a regular season that saw Richards searching to fit in at times. He has now suddenly lived up to the nine-year, $60 million contract he signed last offseason — and then some.

“I think every player in the NHL, if you asked them, it’s obviously the best time of the year to play,” he explained. “It’s the most exciting. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been in some good situations where I’ve had the chance to succeed, playing with some good players and some good teams.”

The lure of New York included a young roster and his relationship with Tortorella that Richards hoped could leave him fortunate yet again. Teammates often cite his experience and ability to lead by example.

“I’ve been around him all year and he’s done such a great job both on and off the ice,” said 21-year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto, one of 10 Rangers 25 or younger. “It seems things like that where it’s just experience. He’s won a Cup. He’s been there. He’s been through it. You just have to learn off that. It’s not exactly things he tells you off the ice. You just have to learn by playing through it.”

Richards has been through it, showing his coach and the league that his intangible gifts could produce tangible results.

Even a coach edged in steel wouldn’t dare deny that.


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