Brad Richards emotional in return to MSG

NEW YORK -- Brad Richards got a little emotional walking into Madison Square Garden on Wednesday afternoon.

Imagine how he'll feel if he's back here again in June.

"That'd be neat," Richards said. "I just hope we're playing somewhere in the East in June."

Getting back to the Stanley Cup Final is a focus for all the Chicago Blackhawks, but it's a little different feeling for Richards, who was in the finals with the New York Rangers last season when they lost in five games to the Los Angeles Kings. The Rangers bought out the remainder of Richards' contract after the season, and he signed with the Blackhawks with the idea that he'd get another chance to chase the Cup.

And while the Blackhawks are focused on getting as many points as they can and moving up in the Central Division standings, Richards knew this game in New York would mean more to him. It's the only time this season that he'll play at the Garden, where he spent the last three seasons with the Rangers.

The only time in the regular season, anyway.

The Rangers, who lead the NHL with 95 points, look ready to make another run at the Cup this spring. The Blackhawks entered play Wednesday in third place in the Central but with three straight wins and with three games in hand on second-place Nashville.

"We're in a good race right now," Richards said. "With the games in hand, we have a good chance to get second and get home ice. And you never know about first. We play St. Louis a couple of times.

"If we play the right way, we'll have a chance to get first."

Richards has had some adjusting to do, first with a role that saw him less featured with the Hawks than he was with the Rangers and then with the injury to Patrick Kane, who had become Richards' linemate.

"That was a big loss for everybody," Richards said. "I was enjoying playing with him, finding a lot of chemistry. It's kind of like losing my right arm, on the right wing."

Richards was held without a point in the first five games after Kane was hurt, extending his drought to 23 games without a goal. He broke that with a power-play goal last week in Arizona and had an assist two days later in San Jose.

"I've liked his last three games," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think his skating has gotten better as the season has gone along."

Richards has 10 goals and 34 points for the season, down from 20 goals and 51 points last season with the Rangers.

"If I was judging my production on other years of my career, I'd feel different," he said. "But I'm here to fit in and help this team win. I'm not playing the same minutes and the same roles. They've got their core guys who have done that. I try to fit in."

He has fit in, and he has put the Rangers in his past, enough so that he said the March 8 meeting at the United Center wasn't overly emotional. Wednesday was different, because Wednesday was at Madison Square Garden.

"It's a weird day," Richards said. "I had a lot of fun here, really got ingrained here. I loved being here, loved coming to this rink. It's something special, playing in the middle of Manhattan."

Imagine if he and the Hawks are back in New York in three months.