Brad Richards

Brad Richards is the Rangers’ X-factor

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To call last season a rough one for Brad Richards would be an understatement.

In just his second season into a nine-year contract with the New York Rangers, he was logging time on their third and fourth lines while going through a season-long slump. On top of that, he wound up being a healthy scratch in the playoffs.

The Rangers thought that reuniting him with his former head coach in Tampa Bay, John Tortorella, would give them the No. 1 center they’d been looking for since Mark Messier hung it up. Instead, Tortorella was fired after last season and Richards was nearly a compliance buyout.

Now, Richards heads into the new season with new lease on life after avoiding a buyout.  Another former coach of his, Alain Vigneault who worked with him in Prince Edward Island (see Elliotte Friedman’s No. 3 thought here), joins the fold with the dream of sparking a Rangers offense that went dormant under Tortorella.

With that promise and those hopes, Richards becomes the team’s major X-factor.

If Richards can find his offensive game again, like he had in his first season in New York where he had 66 points, the 33-year-old may find the buyout talk to be just an ugly moment gone by. After all, playing alongside Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan has its benefits and Richards can still be productive.

Then again…

If last season’s disaster was the first sign of his skills heading down the mountain and the Rangers are staring right into a similar situation that they had with Chris Drury, GM Glen Sather will take his lumps like a tomato can in a prize fight.

Signing a high-priced free agent to play for and have chemistry with a coach you fired two years into his deal won’t look good on anyone, especially with a team that has more than a few big re-signings left to make.

If Richards can’t find his stride under Vigneault this season, he’s almost assuredly going to be a compliance buyout next summer. If he makes it and the Rangers push for a Stanley Cup, everyone wins. If not, it’s likely Richards who loses out.

Backes scores OT goal on his birthday, Blues even up series with Stars

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The St. Louis Blues won’t be thrilled with the way they played in the third period, but in the end, they did just enough to come away with a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in Game 2. The Blues’ win means that the series will head to St. Louis tied 1-1.

The Stars opened the scoring in the first period, but the Blues responded by scoring three unanswered goals (Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson, Troy Brouwer) on five shots. Stars coach Lindy Ruff had seen enough from starter Kari Lehtonen at that point. He yanked Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi at the start of the second period.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, but things got crazy in the third.

With his team still trailing 3-1, Mattias Janmark split Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko before scoring a great goal.

Moments after Janmark’s goal, Brian Elliott took a Jason Spezza blast off the mask. Elliott was shaken up on the play (he even lost one of his contact lenses), but he did stay in the game.

Stars captain Jamie Benn (surprise, surprise) leveled the score by burying a goal by Brian Elliott with under three minutes in regulation.

Like they did during their first round series against Chicago, the Blues took some time to regroup before finding a way to get the job done.

The Blues’ power play went back to work after Antoine Roussel took his third penalty of the game. That’s when the birthday boy, David Backes, came through.

That’s a nice way to celebrate your 32nd birthday.

Game 3 goes Tuesday night in St. Louis.

 

Jamie Benn’s late goal sends Game 2 to overtime

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This definitely wasn’t the way the St. Louis Blues drew it up.

The Blues entered the third period of Game 2 with a 3-1 lead. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to shut the game down on the road.

St. Louis jumped ahead 3-1 after 20 minutes before Dallas decided to pull Kari Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi. The move didn’t provide any results in the middle frame, but something certainly sparked the Stars in the third period.

Mattias Janmark cut the deficit to 3-2 with this beauty (notice how he split Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo).

With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Stars captain Jamie Benn tied it up (top).

It’s safe to say this wasn’t a memorable third period for the Blues.

Video: Brian Elliott takes a blast off the mask, stays in the game

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A bit of a scary moment in the third period of Game 2 between the Stars and Blues.

Less than five minutes into the third period, Jason Spezza took a shot that caught Blues goalie Brian Elliott square in the mask. Play was halted as Elliott remained down. It appears as though the shot to the mask also made Elliott lose one of his contacts.

Thankfully, Elliott wasn’t seriously injured on the play. After being examined by the team doctor, he was allowed to stay into the game. He did need a new mask though (he got his original one back a few minutes later).

You can watch the play by clicking the video at the top of the page.

The Blues currently lead 3-2 late in the third period.

Here’s some Twitter reaction:

 

Lehtonen only lasts one period in Game 2

Lehtonen
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Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.

Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.

The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.

So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.