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Richards' 2003 is now net gain

Held in check in last season's playoffs, Brad Richards is putting his lessons to use.

By TOM JONES
Published May 28, 2004

Main story
Photo gallery
Gary Shelton: What else did you expect?
John Romano: Fedotenko proves his value
Flames take out frustrations
Game 2: period by period
Goalie comparison
Hockey is the best medicine
Lecavalier goes in with a bang
Lecavalier play simply fit for the Great One
Meet the man who keeps them on edge
Richards' 2003 is now net gain
Simon fitting in with Flames
Slapshots
Soundbites
Lightning 4, Flames 1Series tied 1-1
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STANLEY CUP FINALS AT A GLANCE:
Click on each score for the main story from each game
Best-of-7
(Lightning wins series 4-3)
Tuesday [5/25]: Calgary 4, Tampa Bay 1
Thursday [5/27]: Tampa Bay 4, Calgary 1
Saturday [5/29]: Calgary 3, Tampa Bay 0
Monday [5/31]: Tampa Bay 1, Calgary 0

TAMPA - Experience means everything.

A baby puts his hand near something hot and experiences pain. He backs away with a lesson learned.

The Tampa Bay Lightning put its hand in the playoffs last season and experienced failure. But instead of backing down, the Lightning tightened up its skates and bulled straight into this postseason.

Lightning coach John Tortorella makes a case that last season's playoff experience, which included a first-round victory against the Washington Capitals and a second-round loss to the New Jersey Devils, was a valuable tool in this season's run to the Stanley Cup final.

Prime example: Brad Richards. During the 2003 postseason, Richards did not score a goal and had five assists in 11 games. This postseason, Richards has eight goals, including five winners, and 10 assists in 17 games.

And last postseason just wasn't a case of bad luck.

"I don't think it was the pucks didn't go in," Tortorella said. "I think he's playing differently."

He's playing with confidence, with determination, with tenacity. He's playing with all the things he didn't play with last season.

"I think he learned some of the experience of his first playoff year last year about how hard it is to play in the playoffs," Tortorella said.

Richards isn't the only Lightning player who is noticeably better. Vinny Lecavalier is better. So are Martin St. Louis and Fredrik Modin.

"(Brad) is not the only one who has brought his play up this year as far as the playoffs," Tortorella said. "I always talk about the Jersey series in our second round last year. That was checking. That's Jersey, and we didn't know how to fight through it. I think the guys learned lessons."

The lesson that playing hard isn't hard enough. That there's a difference between trying to win and doing everything one can to win. There's a difference between playing hard enough to win instead of just good enough not to lose.

At the top of that list was Richards.

"Richie is certainly one of those guys, and I am sure it drove him crazy all summer," Tortorella said. "I know he chews on the game, and to have what he felt was a letdown and not getting it done in that second round (last year), I am sure it bothered him all summer and he prepared himself."

Because of his current playoff performances, Richards finally is getting noticed, where maybe in the past he was overshadowed by Lecavalier and St. Louis.

"I think he gets overlooked a bit," Tortorella said. "I hate using the word "star.' I don't think we have stars. I think they are players that are going through the process to become the best players they can be and, eventually, I think they will be stars in this league.

"But, Richie, he has a different type of maturity about him that I think (is different) than a lot of young players, and that is to not look to be in the spotlight."

The spotlight, though, is finding Richards . And it all can be traced back to last postseason.

[Last modified May 27, 2004, 23:58:05]

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