By Jay Greenberg in New York
He "has it", said the short and swift John Tortorella on Tuesday about Brad Richards.
And for once the Rangers coach wasn't just trying to end a press conference in the fastest possible way.
The Capitals were 6.6 seconds - a long Tortorella media session - away from getting out of town with a 3-2 series lead Monday night when Richards poked one of the more memorable goals in the long and generally unhappy history of the Rangers franchise off the far post and in.
So, if former President of the United States Bill Clinton could once say "depends on what the definition of it ... is," Tortorella could trust reporters he conveniently often finds as dense as vulcanized rubber to know exactly what "it" is that Richards has.
This season, they watched another in a long -- and often suspect -- history of Rangers big-ticket signings lead them with nine game-winning goals during his first season in New York.
Of course, 15 years after their last appearance in a conference final that is obtainable tonight in Washington, they finally had the support and structure to make one final big piece make sense, much as Richards apparently does in counselling a rising talent like defenceman Michael Del Zotto.
"From day one, yeah, Richie's done a lot of good things off the ice," said Tortorella. "Until we get where want to be, we won't talk about on-ice."
"I'm not going to be hugging people, left and right."
Yeah, but from both Capitals goalie Braden Holtby's left and right the Rangers had kept shooting. So it turned out that Tortorella, inwardly as giddy as any of his players after an exhilarating Game 5 rescue on defender Marc Staal's goal in overtime, proved in the mood to talk happenings on-ice, specifically about a player who was all over it in willing his team to victory.
Richards and linemates Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin produced 11 shots in the 38-puck battering of Holtby. The Rangers cut it close, but with the help of a double high-sticking major taken by the Capitals' Joel Ward and two faceoff wins by Richards in the final minute, they rescued themselves.
"We knew we had 57 seconds and probably would have a few faceoffs," said Richards. "We had everything figured out, what we wanted to do, but a lot of things could go different.
"[Ryan Callahan] did a good job getting it into the circle and we played from there. We kind of had a structure, but the main thing was getting it down to the net and banging away at it. Seeing it in slo-mo though, it's hard to believe it found its way in." Feeding the belief
The fact that it did, two games after a triple-overtime Rangers win feeds the belief of the hardest-working team in the NHL that it can't help but be rewarded in the end. Win playoff games like these and it seems pre-ordained, nobody needing any further elaboration about what IT is. Richards, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup with Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, has a track record of delivering.
"Whatever it is, he just has it," said Tortorella. "I have known him since he was a kid breaking into the league and Richie has a big presence at key times.
"I don't have to say a word to him. That's why he is what he is. He knows how to assess his game, I don't have to assess it for him. In Game 4 he was brutal. But he knows what he is, what he is supposed to do, what he is doing, what he is not doing.
"He has done a lot of things to help teams I have coached. You go through the ups and downs he and I have, sure, you have a relationship."
Primarily, it was $60 million US that brought Richards to the Rangers last summer, but that history with Tortorella didn't hurt. According to the coach, neither did Richards seeing a young team believed close to a breakthrough. The Leafs, Flames and Kings all offered him more money.
"He saw how young our team is and wanted that mentoring role," said Tortorella.
Meanwhile, Gaborik probably was the only teammate who could have helped Richards with his first year on The Big Ticket, where in The Big City, so many have struggled.
"It's never been fun to lose," Richards said. "I probably take it with me home at times too much.
"That's part of the experience of growing up and it's kind of been the same here. You are new, you want to make a good first impression and sometimes you think about that too much."
With his team down to almost its last second on Monday night, Richards proved worth every last cent. Some guys do, some don't. That's just the way it is.Follow Jay Greenberg on Twitter @scribejg.
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