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Richards sheds bad label

After no goals in last year's playoffs and a slow start this year, the center has gone from invisible to shining brightly.

By TOM JONES
Published May 20, 2004

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TAMPA - The Lightning needed a hero Tuesday night, someone to stand up, lift his team onto his shoulders and skate away with a crucial Game 5 victory in the East final.

Just a few weeks ago, no one could've imagined that hero would be Brad Richards.

Flash back to last postseason: Richards played 11 games and scored no goals.

None. Zero. Zilch.

So when this postseason began, one couldn't help but wonder if Richards would disappear again. When he scored only one goal in the first seven games this postseason, the center's reputation of being invisible in big games started to settle.

But then came a two-goal performance, including the overtime winner, in Game 3 against Montreal. Starting with that game, Richards has goals in five of the past seven games and seven goals total. Five have been winners.

That includes Tuesday, when Richards ripped the Superman's cape off the Flyers' Keith Primeau and tied it around his own neck with two goals in the Lightning's 4-2 victory.

"He's the one that led the charge," Lightning coach John Tortorella said.

For two days after Primeau and the Flyers won Game 4, the Lightning talked about how it needed a collective effort, contributions from everyone. Deep down, though, it knew it needed a star.

"(Brad was) a guy that stepped up for us and really took control of the game," Lightning forward Tim Taylor said. "We were looking for that one guy. When you win, there's always one guy that steps above and beyond the rest that displays the kind of leadership you need."

With last season weighing on him, Richards assumed that leadership Tuesday.

"I was challenged, and I challenged myself that I had to play a lot better than I did last year in the playoffs," Richards said. "It's something I concentrated on. I am not approaching anything different."

And Tortorella isn't treating Richards differently. He knew he did not need to sit Richards down before the postseason for a pep talk.

That's because he knew Richards already had lectured himself.

"You don't have to tell him much," Tortorella said. "I think one of the things that may be a weak spot sometimes with players is criticizing themselves, and Brad Richards does enough of that on his own."

Tortorella has never been shy about hauling a player into his office when that player isn't meeting expectations. Often, such a player, Tortorella said, refuses to admit he is playing poorly. He has a blind spot for his weaknesses and exaggerates how well he is playing.

Richards is not such a player.

"He's a student of the game," Tortorella said. "With Brad, you don't have to worry about him. He understands what he is supposed to be doing. He understand and respects the game."

These days, not only does he understand and respect the game, he dominates it. If one had to pick a potential hero for Game 6, Richards might be the first name on the list.

"It's not that I am in a zone or anything," Richards said. "Sometimes it just happens like that."

He could not have picked a better time to make things happen.

[Last modified May 20, 2004, 01:01:12]

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