Richards successful MSG return helps Hawks shutout Rangers

Brad Richards is checked by ex-teammate Carl Hagelin. Richards had a successful return scoring the only goal in the Hawks' 1-0 shutout over the Rangers. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II/Getty Images

Brad Richards is checked by ex-teammate Carl Hagelin. Richards had a successful return scoring the only goal in the Hawks’ 1-0 shutout over the Rangers.
AP Photo by Frank Franklin II/Getty Images

Brad Richards made a successful return to MSG. His goal broke a scoreless tie with 12:41 left in the third period to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 shutout win over the Rangers. For a player who spent three years here helping lead them to a Stanley Cup Final appearance last year, it was an emotional night.

”Tonight was a little special,” Richards said after getting a nice video tribute during a stoppage in the first period. ”It’s a bonus to get one in this building against them, but not in a bad way. I have nothing bad to say about the organization or New York. Everyone knows how much I love playing here.

”It was pretty cool to score against them and win the game.”

Richards had a strong game getting the only goal and finishing with six shots. He came close a couple of other times. It was fitting that he got the winner. For a veteran who’s gone through a 23-game goal drought, you could tell how much scoring that goal meant to him. Even better, it was a brilliant play by Richards, who slipped out in front and beat Cam Talbot top shelf.

On a night Scott Darling got the start with Corey Crawford resting after beating the Islanders the day before, the Hawks played a tight checking game. They limited the Rangers’ chances and shutdown the power play. Of course, anyone who’s seen it knows it’s not too hard to stop it. Outside of one close call where Keith Yandle set up Stepan, it again failed miserably. Oddly, the goal light came on but Stepan’s drive didn’t go in. The Rangers also had a goal disallowed due to a whistle blowing.

It just wasn’t their night. They hadn’t lost in regulation since Feb. 28. All good things must come to an end. Playing without Martin St. Louis, the offense wasn’t good enough. To be blunt, it’s been headed downhill for a while. Including tonight, they’ve scored three goals once in the last six. The home shutout was the first since a 1-0 loss to Montreal on 1/29.

Where has the offense gone? Well, Derek Stepan once again was blanked despite a strong game. He had a team-high six shots. Rick Nash came close on a mini-break only to be robbed by Darling, who did the splits on a forehand try. The only time you noticed Chris Kreider, it was for some awful giveaways that led to Hawks’ chances that Talbot bailed him out on. The newly formed Kevin Hayes, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello unit were ineffective. The third line of Carl Hagelin, James Sheppard and J.T. Miller had a couple of strong shifts but only combined for three shots. The fourth line of Tanner Glass, Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast were solid for the most part but on for Richards’ goal.

There really wasn’t much. No line stood out. On the Hawks’ side, Patrick Sharp was flying getting five shots including a breakaway that Talbot denied him on late to keep it a one-goal contest. Brandon Saad also was all over the ice with five shots including a wrap around attempt that was defended well by Fast allowing Talbot to make the save. Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews showed glimpses but neither were factors. And Richards played well and got a just reward.

Both teams played tight defensively. It was like a playoff game. Similar to the last time they played- a game Brassard won in overtime- they competed in all three zones. Most scoring chances were earned. The Original Six rivals combined for 56 shots on goal with another 56 attempted. When the total number of missed shots and blocked shots matches the actual shot total, it tells you how competitive it was. These are the kind of games they’ll be playing a month from now. Get used to it.

The days of wide open hockey which Alain Vigneault has his team playing are coming to a close. These are the games they’ll have to win. The Rangers have proven they have the ability to win low scoring highly contested games. It would be nice for them to figure it out on the power play. When Yandle is so hesitant to shoot and the other shooters are too passive, it is a concern. Of course, Yandle is a passer and makes good passes for open shots. The problem is there’s no finish.

Prior to Richards’ goal, Boyle had a shot go off the far post. The puck carom allowed the Hawks to transition quickly. Eventually, Richards came out with the puck off a good forecheck from pinching defenseman Duncan Keith and patiently outwaited Talbot for his 11th. From there, the Hawks protected the lead well allowing Darling to see all 25 shots for his first NHL shutout.

”This was special for me against them in this famous arena,” the 26-year-old Darling said. ”An Original Six matchup on national TV. You can’t ask for more. It was a great night.”

”I felt really good again,” Talbot said after finishing with 30 saves. ”I felt like I was seeing the puck well and controlling the puck. It’s tough when a guy like Richie gets that much time in the slot. You almost have to try to wait him out, but it was a tough situation and he made a nice play.”

”The difference was we go down get a chance, hit the crossbar, then they come down and score,” Stepan added. ”That’s kind of the way hockey is.”

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Cam Talbot, NYR (30 saves on 31 shots)

2nd Star-Scott Darling, CHI (25 saves for 1st NHL shutout)

1st Star-Brad Richards, CHI (game-winner-11th, 6 SOG, 6-for-8 on draws, +1 in 13:29)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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