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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    Johnny Hockey: ‘I love Calgary, don’t get me wrong’

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    Johnny Gaudreau made headlines last week when he went on Philadelphia radio and said it would be “sweet” to play for the Flyers one day.

    Gaudreau — a South Jersey native who grew up cheering for the Flyers, but currently stars for the Calgary Flames — has now been offered a chance to clarify a few things about that interview.

    “I think if you ask any player in the NHL if they’d like to play in their hometown at some point they’d all say it would be pretty sweet,” Gaudreau told the Courier-Post in a Q&A. “You’ve got friends, you’ve got family, you’ve got kids you went to school with, you’ve got teachers, you name it. You’ve got people that will be supporting you. The people support me down here, like it’s crazy down here. I’m just really fortunate they follow me up in Calgary.

    “I love Calgary, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great city and they’re so passionate about our team. It’s a real hockey city. I really enjoy it up there, don’t get me wrong, but I think if you ask any player if he wants to play in his hometown they’d say it would be pretty cool to do that.

    “I’ve still got five more years on my contract and who knows…if we’re playing well up here in Calgary I could end up staying another four or five years there because I love the city so much. It’s tough to have all those articles come out when it’s something so small, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

    It’s certainly possible that Gaudreau opts to explore unrestricted free agency when his contract expires. But he doesn’t have that option until 2022.

    For now, Gaudreau’s excited about the next few years in Calgary, where the Flames are trending the right way, possibly soon into legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

    Related: Stability, Stanley Cup aspirations ‘a breath of fresh air’ for Mike Smith

    Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

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    Save for the loss of Ben Lovejoy, the Pittsburgh Penguins of 2016-17 looked a heck of a lot like the Penguins of 2015-16.

    Both those teams won the Stanley Cup, of course.

    But the Pens of 2017-18, while still boasting superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, will have to attempt a three-peat without some key pieces from the 2017 run.

    Gone are Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey, the latter of whom proved a savvy pickup by GM Jim Rutherford at the trade deadline.

    It’s also possible that Matt Cullen opts for retirement.

    True, the Penguins added Matt Hunwick in free agency, and they don’t expect to be without Kris Letang again next spring.

    But for goalie Matt Murray, winning it all in 2018 seems a larger challenge.

    “Obviously it’s not easy to win at all in this league, especially with the salary cap and the turnover that teams go through. Last year we were lucky that we didn’t lose too many guys and we had a lot of the same guys come back,” Murray told SooToday.com.

    “This year it’s a little bit different. We lost some key pieces and we’re going to have a new look going into this season. But I think we’ve added some key pieces as well and I think we’re in really good shape. Of course it’s going to be difficult, but I think if there’s a team that can do it, we can do it.”

    For any team that loses important players, the key to success is usually found in the organization’s youth. Enter forwards Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese. If those two can become contributors by the playoffs, it would sure help.

    Rutherford will also have to come through by finding a new third-line center. That’s no easy task given the importance of the position. Bonino was a tremendous bargain for the Pens, but he’s in Nashville now.

    Related: Pens can’t ‘panic’ to replace Bonino

    Report: Bruins avoid arbitration with Spooner

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    Heading into today’s arbitration hearing, Ryan Spooner was reportedly looking for a $3.85 million dollar deal. On the other side of this equation, the Bruins were only willing to offer $2 million.

    With that kind of gap, it seemed almost certain that this dispute would be settled by an arbitrator, but the two sides have reportedly met somewhere in the middle, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

    Friedman is reporting that the two sides have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a deal worth $2.825 million.

    Spooner finished last season with 11 goals and 39 points in 78 games. The 25-year-old scored two less goals and 10 less points in 2016-17 than he did the previous year.

    There’s no doubt that he has plenty of offensively ability, but consistency in his own end has always been an issue (just ask former head coach Claude Julien).

    If Spooner can put it all together this season, he’ll be able to earn a much bigger pay day next summer.

    Brian MacLellan wants you to know that the Caps are still ‘a good team’

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    The Washington Capitals will look pretty different when training camp opens.

    Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov will all be back, but players like Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner are starting new journeys somewhere else.

    Some have suggested that the big number of departures will bring the Caps down a notch or two when it comes to regular season dominance. GM Brian MacLellan simply doesn’t see that happening.

    “People make it sound like we’re a lottery team,” said MacLellan, per the Washington Post. “I’m shocked by that. We’ve got good players. I want people to know: We’ve got a good team.”

    The Caps will have to rely on young veterans and/or rookies to fill the void left by all of those departures. Andrei Burakovsky and Tom Wilson may have to play bigger roles, while rookies like defensemen Lucas Johansen  and Christian Djoos may crack the lineup sooner than expected.

    As of right now, the Caps have five defensemen on one-way contracts (Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney), so there’s plenty of room for those youngsters to leave their mark on the team.

    “It’s a good team, I think,” MacLellan said. “We have good goaltending. We have skilled players. We’re going to have to see how Djoos plays, how Johansen plays. We might take a little while to get up to speed in that area. I guess there’s a little uncertainty. But I feel good.”

     McLellan’s team might take a bit of a dip because the supporting cast took a hit this offseason, but expecting them to fall off the map because of it is a little premature.