NEW YORK – When Martin St. Louis walked into the New York Rangers locker room back in March, his trade wish granted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, some saw him as the final piece of a championship puzzle. But Brad Richards just saw an old friend, in whom he’d have the utmost confidence in a must-win playoff scenario.
Like the game resting on his blade.
In the Eastern Conference Final, dagger in hand, standing over the Montreal Canadiens’ pulsating heart.
“You want that on his stick, in those moments. I’ve seen him score them before,” said Richards, after St. Louis’ goal at 6:02 of overtime won Game 4, giving the Rangers a 3-2 win and 3-1 series lead on Sunday night.
“No better feeling than jumping on him [after] an overtime winner.”
It’s a feeling he experienced for years when the two were linemates with the Tampa Bay Lightning, never more intensely than in 2004 when St. Louis scored a double-OT goal to force Game 7 against the Calgary Flames, which they’d win to capture their first Stanley Cup:
“Everybody wants to be the guy,” said St. Louis, who now has four career playoff overtime goals. “These are the times … you play as a kid in the street, you picture this. Everybody wants to be the guy.”
St. Louis is that guy for the Rangers, as evidenced by the fact that Ryan Callahan’s name has been mentioned about as many times as the Canadiens have converted on a power play in this series.
His overtime winner came against Dustin Tokarski, the Canadiens rookie goalie had stymied him in Game 3, when St. Louis had five shots. He had four more in Game 4 before finally firing one past Tokarski.
St. Louis said he saw Richards battling along the wall to win the puck. He felt linemate Carl Hagelin was in position to transition to defense if the puck was turned over, so he hung a little bit longer, deep in the offensive zone.
"The goal he scored tonight is exactly what you see him practice every time he's on the ice, like a hundred pucks,” said Coach Alain Vigneault.
“You get this far and you just have to trust yourself,” said St. Louis. “That’s what I try to do, and I was fortunate.”
After a seven-game point drought, St. Louis has a 6-game point streak (4 goals, 3 assists) that began on May 11.
Two days earlier, St. Louis lost his mother, France, who died unexpectedly from a heart attack at 63. It’s a moment that’s become an essential part of the Rangers playoff story, with players citing both the emotional impact it had during their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the inspiration they’ve taken from St. Louis’ soldiering through his grief.
“He’s a great hockey player no matter what. Mentally, it’s been impressive [to see] go through what he’s gone through. But it’s also a getaway for him,” said Richards.
“There’ll be a time to settle down and grieve,” he said. “He’s just ridin’ it.”
Richards mobbed his friend as the goal light flashed and the Garden crowd roared, just like he had 10 years ago witnessing similar heroics in the Stanley Cup Final. Richards has tried to return to that stage ever since, tasked with bringing a Cup to the New York Rangers when he decided to join them in 2011.
St. Louis made his decision nearly three years later, reuniting them. And now, his overtime goal put Richards and the Rangers one win away from a chance at the Cup.
“I don’t know if that’s what we were missing,” said Richards, “but I sure know it’s nice to have.”