NEW YORK -- Chicago Blackhawks center Brad Richards made his return to Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers a memorable one.
Richards, who spent three seasons with the Rangers before signing a one-year contract with Chicago last summer, scored the game winner against his former team late in the third period to help the Blackhawks to a 1-0 victory on Wednesday.
His 11th goal of the season came one period after Rangers fans were applauding him; a video montage of Richards played on the scoreboard, thanking him for his service and assistance in helping New York advance to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.
"That's why you love playing here, because you never know what you're going to get," Richards said with a grin. "That's what makes it special. These are great fans, they're passionate. I wouldn't expect anything different."
In addition to Richards' heroics, Blackhawks first-year goaltender Scott Darling made 25 saves in his first start in seven games. It was his first NHL shutout.
"I'm just thrilled; it's an amazing stage to [get a shutout] at Madison Square Garden," Darling said. "It feels great to just get back in the net and do my job. This is one of the most famous arenas in the world against one of the most iconic jersey's there is. An 'Original Six' matchup on the NBC Sports Network; you really can't ask for much more."
Darling made 10 saves in the third period when the Rangers began to push the pace.
"It was an impressive performance [by Darling]," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "He's a big goalie and there's not a lot to shoot at. He's aggressive and for a guy who hasn't played very much he was confident in his ability. That rubs off on everybody, so he was big part of the win."
On the game-winner, Richards got the puck behind the Rangers net and skated uncontested below the right circle before sending a wrist shot inside the right post past Cam Talbot at 7:19.
"I was looking to make a play, but for whatever reason I guess they thought I was passing it and I got time to kind of wait and figured I may as well shoot myself," Richards said.
Richards, who said he had nothing but good memories of his time in New York, was bought out by the Rangers after the season ended. He had six years remaining on a nine-year contract. The Blackhawks then signed Richards to a one-year deal on July 1.
"It's a bonus to get one in this building against them, but not in a bad way," Richards said. "I have nothing bad to say about this organization or New York. Everyone knows how much I love playing here. It was pretty cool to score against them and win the game."
Richards scored a few seconds after Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle hit the crossbar on a 2-on-1.
Darling (7-3-0) won for the first time since Feb. 24, a 34-save, 3-2 victory against the Florida Panthers. Corey Crawford, 6-0-1 in his past seven starts, was given the night off after a 38-save, 4-1 win against the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
"It's getting to that time of year where teams do whatever it takes to get points and we got great goaltending and couple of big [penalty] kills and a huge and fitting goal for [Richards]," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "It was nice to come in here and steal two [points]."
Talbot, who lost for the first time in the past five starts, made 30 saves and was a big reason the Rangers remained within striking distance. He stopped Patrick Sharp on a breakaway with his left pad 13:34 into the third.
"I felt like I was seeing the puck well and controlling the puck pretty well," Talbot said. "It's tough when a guy like [Richards] gets that much time in the slot. You almost have to try and wait him out, but it was a tough situation and he made a nice play."
The Blackhawks (43-21-6) winners of four straight, are 6-0-1 in the past seven games and will play the second of a four-game road trip against the Dallas Stars on Saturday. Chicago is currently third in the Central Division of the Western Conference with 92 points.
"I still think we have to get better," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think there's more consistency of our team game and more speed that we're looking to add."
The Rangers (44-18-7), first in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference with 95 points, will play back-to-back games this weekend. New York will visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday before returning home against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
"I wish we could have had a little better of a shooting mentality," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "We had some rushes where we were trying to make some passes, some prettier plays, but it just didn't seem to be clicking as much for us."
Each team had a few opportunities in the first period when Rangers coach Alain Vigneault opted to have his defense pair of Marc Staal and McDonagh on the ice against Chicago's top line of Toews and forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.
Toews had a good opportunity at the right post on the power play that was denied by the glove of Talbot at 6:56. Rick Nash created a turnover and broke in 1-on-1. Despite missing a poke check, Darling made a right pad save to keep the game scoreless.
"I was thinking that one of the best goal scorers in the world with a really long reach is about to have all the time in the world, so I just tried to surprise him," Darling said. "He read my poke check and I was lucky he hit me in the leg with the puck."
Rangers defenseman Matt Hunwick appeared to sweep a shot over the line during a scramble in front of Darling at 12:00, but the referee lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle to stop play.
Prior to the game, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (neck), who was cleared by doctors to begin practicing with his teammates on Tuesday, said he has no timetable when he might return to the lineup. Lundqvist, who has missed the past 21 games, will join the Rangers for practice on Friday.