It’s been a year of ridicule to redemption for Mike Richards.
All regular season long, the Flyers captain was questioned at every turn. From his social choices to his on-ice contribution to his war with the Philadelphia media, the 25-year-old received waves of heat from a disgruntled fan base that called for his head at almost every opportunity.
But from the start of the 2009-10 post season, Richards has quieted even the most steadfast Philly nay-sayers by being the ideal captain and carrying his team on broad shoulders both on and off the ice.
“It would mean we move on,” Richards plainly told the media on Wednesday, when asked what a game 7 victory would mean. “We’re not worried about any of the other stuff. We haven’t really done much right now.”
His answer, realistic and plain, is a perfect example of how he was able to lead his team back from a three-game deficit to tie the series 3-3 and force a deciding contest on Friday in Boston. Never getting too high or too low, the Flyers systematically worked period by period, shift by shift, until three games were won. It was all business and it was machine-like.
But Richards didn’t just lead the team with his off-ice demeanor, he has paced them on it as well. After scoring a team-leading two goals and six assists in the Flyers 4-1 series win over the New Jersey Devils in the opening round, Richards has stepped his game up even further in the semifinals. Although he scored a productive three goals and five assists in six second-round games, Richards has used grit and physicality as his most potent weapon.
The 5-foot-11 center knocked Bruins’ scoring catalyst David Krejci out for the season with a brutal but clean open-ice hit in game 3 and Boston was never the same. Richards continued to dig under the skin of the Bruins in game 5, when B’s forward Marc Savard lost his cool and attacked Richards with a cross check to the face. During the post game, Savard admitted, with the words stumbling out of his frustrated mouth, that Richards has clamped down on Boston’s raw nerve.
That’s leading by example, that’s playing with a score to settle and that’s a major reason the Flyers are back in the series.
If the captain gets the heat when things go poorly then Richards should get the credit as the team prepares to make history and become just the third team since the birth of the NHL to come back from a 3-0 series deficit and find victory.