Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 3/13/12

Free agent acquisition Brad Richards hasn't exactly had the season most of us expected him to. Do not translate that to mean he hasn't played well, though, because that hasn't been the case. After all, Richards has 21 goals and 50 points in 68 games played so far with the Rangers. I've always said that any player who can reach the 20-goal mark has a skill set in one way or another no matter what the critics say, and then you add in all of the helpers that Richie has collected over the course of the year and you have an effective hockey player. There's no arguing against facts like that. 

Where Richards has lacked, however, is in the consistency department. He's been hot and cold all season long, and head coach John Tortorella has put him in various situations in attempt to resurrect the veteran center's game. At times we've seen Brad become a dominant force on the ice, much like he was in Sunday's win over the New York Islanders at MSG. But, at other times, he could be completely irrelevant to the outcome of a game and not contribute in any way. And then there's the odd night when he's just doing everything wrong with the puck, and I've been very quick to point those out this season. 

I'm big on trends when it comes to analyzing players individually, and just recently I was backtracking on the career of Mr. Richards and something stood out to me immediately. His statistical production tends to increase towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, at least in the years of his career in which he's reached the postseason. Remember, he did win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup back in 2004. He's just that type of player. 

We've seen shades of Richie's ability to make clutch plays in crucial moments throughout the season. He's tied for the team lead with seven game-winning goals, including the incredible buzzer-beater in Phoenix earlier in the year. He and Marian Gaborik have been the two main players the Blueshirts have called upon this season when they are in need of a highly important goal, not counting the shootout (hehehe). 

And it just so happens that those two have again been paired up together on offense recently and have started to make some magic happen. Richards and Gaborik were dynamite against the Islanders on Sunday, and connected in the final seconds of overtime for the game-winning goal. So now you have two clutch players both heating up at the same time – together – as the payoffs quickly approach.

That’s a mouth-watering thought.

But to bring the focus back to Richards and Richards only, I truly believe that we have yet to see the best from this guy. He’s a winner and a champion, and he knows what it takes to win hockey games at this time of the season. The reason he may not be so highly noted as so is because he simply has not had many playoff appearances in recent years. In four seasons with the Dallas Stars, they managed to reach the postseason just once. 

Now, reunited with head coach John Tortorella on a team that shares some similarities to the one he excelled on in Tampa Bay back in 2004, the beast has yet to reveal itself in Richards. Game by game we’ve seen an increase in contribution as of late, and this past Sunday he was undisputedly dominant in a big game against the Isles. This is where Richards will earn his paycheck.

And if what we’ve seen in his recent play is a sign of what is to come, the Rangers will have a very dangerous weapon in Richards come playoff time.

* Here's a great pump-up video sent to me by a reader via Twitter. This makes me anxiously want the playoffs to come, like, right now:

 

Notice how many times Richards appears in that video for scoring a clutch goal.

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