2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 4: Mike Richards finally steps up

Richards2.jpgPhiladelphia Flyers 5, Chicago Blackhawks 3

Series tied 2-2

Despite how the rest of the team has been playing, if the
Philadelphia Flyers had any hope of tying this series and eventually
going on to win the Stanley Cup, then they would need their captain to
step up and raise the level of his game.

All series long Mike Richards has struggled, whether it’s because of
the Chicago defense or the health of his linemates or just the ebb and
flow of the post, there’s been no doubt that this team needed him to be
better. Coach Peter Laviolette said before the game that he felt that
Richards and the line with Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne was ready to
break out, and while they had just two goals between the three — with
one being an empty-netter — yet Richards set the tone early for his
team and never backed off.

After the game, the rest of the team acknowledged just how big of
difference he made tonight.

“[Richards] always finds a way to step up when it’s time,” said
Claude Giroux. “Obviously, his goal was huge. He just always finds a
way to get that big goal for us.”

That big goal came off an incredible individual effort by Mike
Richards on the power play, who chased down the puck along the boards.
He stole the puck from an unsuspecting Niklas Hjalmarsson and a quick
backhand surprised Antti Niemi. It opened the scoring and set the tone
for what would be a great first period by the Flyers.

It wasn’t just that goal though, as Richards and his line
continuously put the pressure on the Hawks. In the past, the Hawks had
been able to easily shut down the top line yet was burned by the second
and third lines of the Flyers. Tonight, with Richards playing so well,
it opened up the game for the Flyers in all areas as they completely
controlled the flow and the energy for the first two periods.

Mike Richards says the key for him was easy: keep it simple.

“I think sometimes when you try to do too much, you almost go the
opposite way and not do enough,” the Flyers captain said after the game.

“Just keep it simple, try to relax, play hockey, and at the end of
the day, just don’t try to do too much with the puck, or don’t try to do
too much without the puck. Then you just dig yourself in the corners.”

Richards provided the leadership on the ice tonight that we’ve been
waiting for all series long, as the rest of the team has made up for the
top line’s shortcomings. It’s not just about scoring goals, and in the
first three games Mike Richards was nearly invisible. Not so tonight, as
he stood out on every single shift. It seemed as if the Hawks just
weren’t ready for his energy and the pressure he was putting on their
defense.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Blackhawks and Flyers game if one team
didn’t come roaring back in the third period. This time around, it was
the Hawks who had the big third period, getting within 4-3 with two late
goals. It seems in this series that holding onto a lead for any amount
of time is nearly impossible to do, and Richards says that turnovers
certainly don’t help when you’re playing a team like the Hawks.

“We know they’re great on transition,” Richards said. “I mean, to
lead to your next question, that’s when we kind of caused some problems
for ourselves, was turning the puck over.”

“We got the puck in
deep. When we hit their defense, we had success. When we didn’t do
that, they came back fast the other way. Not the greatest way that we
wanted to finish the game. But I think we have confidence in ourselves
with a one-goal lead. Closed it out when we needed to.”

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