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Richards revels in the moment

BRANT JAMES
Published May 23, 2004

TAMPA - Brad Richards need only look a few stalls to the left to remind himself that where his team is, and how he helped his team get there, is very difficult and precious.

Players can wait entire careers, like Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk, to reach the Stanley Cup final. Even at 24, Richards cannot be assured that this opportunity will come again.

"I saw Dave," Richards said after producing two assists, raising his playoff points to 17, one off teammate Martin St. Louis' league-leading total on Saturday.

"I sit right beside him. He's one of my good friends and he's never been there. You never know if it's going to happen again. We may never get back to this. We want this."

That's why Richards is playing like a 10-year veteran instead of fourth-year NHL player with 27 career playoff games. But this also has to do with his belief that he has something to prove after recording more penalty minutes (12) than points (five) last season in the playoffs.

"It's a lot of things," he said. "It's just the stage to go out and put everything on the line and really prove what kind of player you are, what kind of person you are, what kind of team you are. When you win, there's no better way to do that."

Though Richards' persona is placid, his game has featured an emotional fire, which has been the fuel for a postseason to remember. It's one in which he has provided a steady spark.

"He, among a lot of players ... tremendous," said Fredrik Modin, who scored the winner on which Richards had the second assist. "A lot of guys have stepped up and he's one of them. He's really played well. We have one series to go, obviously he is one of our top players and he has really stepped up for us."

Among Richards' highlights was an overtime winner off goaltender Jose Theodore's back that eliminated Montreal in four games. That was one of five Richards goals that have either won or tied playoff games.

"That's just my demeanor," he said. "I want this more than anything. I couldn't sleep all week. I just wanted to get out there and play."

While St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier gain most of the media attention, it is unlikely Richards is being forgotten by opposing teams. Still, he has been able to avoid prolonged slumps when those players occasionally have had trouble. And he's not worried about not getting all the attention.

"Talk and media and recognition is not what I want," he said. "I want to win, and when you win, you get all you need, and sometimes it's nothing you want, either. But everything takes care of yourself if you play well and be yourself."

Richards admits the run has been a surprise, especially that before Saturday he had more goals and assists. He now has eight and nine.

But he knew he and the Lightning had put in the proper measure of commitment to make this happen.

"You prepare, you want it, and sometimes you do surprise yourself," he said. "Every time you win a game there is so much fun, it's the best time of your life. It's so easy to get up for these games."

Though he admits he wishes he had a formula for maintaining the kind of focus he's enjoying now over an 82-game regular season, he's willing to take the tradeoff for a postseason run at the Cup.

"You can elevate your game sometimes when you really want it," he said.

Newsflash: Richards really wants it, and he wants it now.

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