NEW YORK -- If New York Rangers forward Brad Richards had it his way, the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs would not have happened.
"I really don't need to talk much about last year," Richards said. "I'll talk about [Thursday]. ... I've had lots of good years. No need to talk about one bad one."
If he has more games like the one he had Thursday to start the 2014 playoffs, no one will be talking about last year.
Richards scored the game-winning goal and assisted on two, all in the third period, when the Rangers defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Madison Square Garden.
It came after he spent the final two games of the playoffs last year as a healthy scratch.
"We had no doubt of his ability and what he brings to this team," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "He's proven it here in Game 1. He wants more of it in this series."
Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello and Carl Hagelin each had a goal for the Rangers, who took the lead in the best-of-7 series with Game 2 on Sunday (Noon ET; NBC, TSN, RDS).
The Rangers scored two power-play goals in a 47-second span of the third period to break a 1-1 tie.
It was the Flyers' ninth straight loss at Madison Square Garden, dating to Feb. 20, 2011. Andrew MacDonald scored and Ray Emery made 32 saves for Philadelphia, which was outshot 13-1 in the third, 36-15 in the game.
The game turned at 7:35 of the third period when Flyers rookie forward Jason Akeson, in his first Stanley Cup Playoff game, was assessed a double minor for high sticking Carl Hagelin.
Richards was in the right place to score off Martin St. Louis' rebound at 8:22, then moments later made a beautiful fake shot/pass from above the right circle to Stepan alone off the post on the left side of the Philadelphia zone, and Stepan slammed it in at 9:09.
"When you can get four minutes in the third period in a 1-1 game in a playoff game, if you don't score or don't get the momentum there it can go the other way pretty quick and they can build of that," Richards said. "To get one was huge. To go back out and get the other one, that won us the game."
Hagelin closed the scoring when he knocked in the rebound of a Richards shot at 15:52.
Though Richards didn't want to talk about any redemption he might have felt, his teammates were happy he was back to resembling the player who won the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
"He came in with a great attitude, worked really hard to give himself the best opportunity to make things happen and make an impact," McDonagh said. "I don't think anyone doubted what he means to this team and what kind of season he was having. He's proven it here and he started this playoff with a bang. We need it to continue. He knows that. Just got to build on this. It's only Game 1 and there's a lot of time left in the series."
As much as Richards provided on the ice, his 94 games of playoff experience is just as important.
"He's a leader," Hagelin said. "He's been through it before. Anytime you have won the [Stanley] Cup you're going to get respect around the room. Him and Marty have done a great job preparing us for this, going over some things. Just having them around, their presence, it helps."
After the Rangers took the lead, their defense shut down any Flyers comeback, as did three Philadelphia penalties.
"It bothers me," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "There's no reason for it. You've got to control your emotions. You have to stay in check."
One of the penalties was taken by Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux. The third-leading scorer in the NHL in the regular season, he was held without a shot for the fifth time, but it was the second time he went without a shot or a point.
"They didn't produce," Berube said. "They didn't shoot pucks, they didn't get shots on net, didn't get an attack."
Some of that was a product of strong play by New York forwards Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett.
"They're a tough line to handle and I thought they did a good job," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Dom's line played to their strength. They kept it high-percentage."
The Rangers dominated in puck possession and offensive chances through two periods, but Emery, in his first playoff start since April 24, 2011, as a member of the Anaheim Ducks, kept Philadelphia in it.
"He played really well," Berube said. "We didn't help him in the third period with the penalties."
Emery played because Steve Mason is sidelined by an upper-body injury he sustained Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mason is questionable to play in Game 2; he arrived prior to puck drop Thursday but was not available to play. Rookie Calvin Heeter was the backup.
The Flyers had one shot in the first 7:28 but made it count when MacDonald scored. Hartnell knocked down McDonagh behind the New York net and got the loose puck in the right corner. Hartnell sent a pass to MacDonald at the left point, and his shot hit off the stick of St. Louis and fluttered high past Lundqvist. It was MacDonald's first playoff goal.
The Rangers tied the game at 10:53 on Zuccarello's goal. Benoit Pouliot won a puck battle with Braydon Coburn in front of the Philadelphia net and backhanded to a trailing Zuccarello. His shot hit off teammate Derick Brassard and Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who were battling in front of the goal. The puck dropped in the crease and Zuccarello poked it in.
The Flyers felt they had a chance to win the game until the Akeson penalty.
"We didn't get a lot of shots but we did a lot of good things," Giroux said. "There's a reason why there are seven games. We'll see what we did wrong and we'll be ready for Game 2.
"We're going to be fine. It's not time to hit the panic button. It's only one game."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK