NEW YORK -- A major part of the New York Rangers rationale for signing center Brad Richards to a nine-year, $60 million free-agent contract on July 2, 2011, was his penchant for being a difference-maker.
Even though his time on Broadway has been up-and-down, Richards has displayed an ability to make significant plays at important times.
Richards did so again Sunday night, when he recorded a goal and an assist in the third period Sunday night at Madison Square Garden to lead the Rangers to a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers.
"You expect a player of his experience to continue to play and continue to play well," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "That's what he did."
Right wing J.T. Miller, right wing Derek Dorsett and left wing Mats Zuccarello also scored for New York, which has won seven of its last 10 games and improved to 9-8-0 overall. New York is over .500 for the first time in the 2013-14 season.
"There are no easy games in this league," Vigneault said. "It's hard fought from start to finish and that's what we were expecting tonight, and that's what we got."
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves for the Rangers, who allowed more than two goals against for the first time in 10 games.
Defenseman Brian Campbell scored twice for Florida and center Aleksander Barkov added another. The Panthers have lost nine in a row. Their last win was a 2-1 decision over the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 19.
"We're giving (away) these games," Campbell said of the 3-11-4 Panthers. "I don't know what to say."
Richards' goal, his first since Oct. 24, broke a 2-2 deadlock. The center forced defenseman Dmitry Kulikov into a defensive-zone turnover to begin the play, which finished with his sixth goal of the season.
"He had that great shot top corner," defenseman Dan Girardi said of Richards. "You love to see a guy like that play well."
New York led 1-0 9:49 into the match when Miller completed a pretty passing sequence with his first goal of the season. Miller dropped a pass between his legs for defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who carried the puck into the slot. McDonagh found left wing Chris Kreider alongside the Florida net, and he set up Miller with a diagonal cross-ice pass.
The Panthers drew even at 1-1 before the end of the period. Barkov lifted right wing Kris Versteeg's rebound over Lundqvist for his fourth power-play goal of the season.
Campbell put Florida ahead 2-1 midway through the second period when his point shot eluded Lundqvist, who was screened by left wing Scottie Upshall.
The Panthers' lead lasted all of 2:38.
Dorsett finished a strong forechecking shift behind the Florida net by jamming his own rebound under goalie Tim Thomas to tie the game at 2-2.
"Dorsett's goal was a big goal," Richards said. "It got us back."
Zuccarello increased New York's lead to 4-2 with a power-play goal 5:30 after Richards' marker. Zuccarello one-timed a Richards pass over Thomas.
"It's an honor to be out there on those situations," Zuccarello said. "It's nice to see it go in."
Thomas made 25 saves.
Campbell's second of the game ended the scoring.
"A win would have been nice," Campbell said. "(I shot) puck (and got) a little lucky."
Sunday marked Florida's second game under interim coach Peter Horachek. The Panthers dropped a 3-2 decision to Ottawa on Nov. 9, Horacheck's debut. He and assistant coaches Brian Skrudland and John Madden replaced Kevin Dineen, Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsay, all of whom were fired by general manager Dale Tallon on Nov. 8.
"You are not going to win games if you turn pucks over and we are not going to get better until we decide we are going to manage the puck better," Horachek said. "Those are unforced errors."
NOTES: Sunday night's game was the first of three regular-season meetings between the Eastern Conference rivals. The teams will meet twice more -- Nov. 17 and Dec. 31 -- at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers won two of the three meetings in the shortened 2013 season. ... Rangers LW Brandon Mashinter replaced LW Taylor Pyatt in the lineup Sunday. Pyatt suffered a concussion when he was elbowed by Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin in the second period of New York's 4-2 win in Columbus on Thursday night. Injured Rangers LW Rick Nash (concussion) and C Dominic Moore (strained oblique) skated at New York's Westchester training facility following the team's early skate Sunday morning. ... Pyatt, Moore, Nash and defenseman Justin Falk [healthy scratch] did not play for New York. ... Five of Florida's next nine games are on the road. ... The Panthers sent G Jacob Markstrom to AHL San Antonio before the game. Markstrom compiled a 1-5-3 record with an .877 save percentage and 3.36 goals against average in 11 games. ... The Panthers scratched C Scott Gomez. Florida was also without C Jesse Winchester, who was serving the second of his three game suspension for elbowing Boston Bruins C Chris Kelly in the Panthers' 4-1 loss on Nov. 7. ... Florida finished the game 1-for-3 on the man advantage. ... New York had come into the game having killed 34 of 39 power plays against. ... New York went 1-for-3 on the power play. ... Vigneault said Kreider apologized to the team for cross checking Upshall into the Florida bench with 1:15 left in regulation.
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