Ultimately, it was an injury that earned Taylor Pyatt a promotion from fourth-line duty for the surging Rangers.
Since then, Pyatt has picked up his game, performing the dirty work along the boards and battling behind the net.
Sunday night, he was rewarded with his first goal in 27 games. Before Pyatt’s pivotal second-period marker -- a game-changer that gave the Rangers a 3-0 lead en route to the team’s 4-1 win ober the Devils -- he had not found the back of the net since Feb. 26.
For the hard work Pyatt put forth, he was due.
“I’ve used [Pyatt] when we’re protecting a lead,” coach John Tortorella said. “He has done some really good things for us as far as his overall game. It’s been an up and down year for him, but he’s a good guy along the wall…he’s a big part of that line and that line has played well.”
A big part of that has been the play-making ability of Richards, who has four goals and seven points in the last three games.
Richards intercepted a Devils’ pass before dishing off to Pyatt above the right circle for his linemate's slump-snapping goal on Sunday; later in the game he set up captain Ryan Callahan for his second helper of the night.
An inconsistent performer this season, Richards seems to be hitting his stride at the right time. It started with a goal and an assist in the team’s 6-1 rout of the Panthers Thursday -- he had previously been held off the score sheet for four straight games – and continued with an 8-4 win against the Sabres the next night, during which Richards netted his first hat trick in 896 career games.
“He’s looking great. Past couple of weeks, he’s making some great plays,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “It seems like he’s reading the game really well -- scoring a lot of goals and setting up guys for goals, so he’s heating up at the right time. It’s great to see.”
Lundqvist made his 12th consecutive start Sunday night, another 60-minute effort on top of an already heavy workload. He will likely make at least two more before the season’s over, possibly all three, depending on the playoff implications that arise.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner, who played only 62 of 82 games last season, hasn't had the luxury of rest this year.
Lundqvist has sat out only five of 45 games with the Rangers fighting for the eighth and last playoff spot in the East.
“All I do right now is prepare and recover from games,” Lundqvist said. “All my focus is just hockey. In a normal season, it’s a little different, but right now it’s all about hockey and it feels like the playoffs have been going on for a couple of weeks now.”
Lundqvist said he has deferred the decision on whether he starts or rests to Tortorella. He knows he can't trust himself to spurn the option to play.
“I told him, ‘I can’t make that call. It’s up to you,'” Lundqvist said. “I can’t say ‘no’, but it’s a lot of fun to be out there right now, with all the excitement and we’re playing well as a group as well.”
With three games remaining in the regular season, the Rangers face the Panthers in Florida on Tuesday.