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Richards still hot, humble

The Lightning forward keeps delivering winners.

Published May 29, 2004

CALGARY - Brad Richards is careful not to take full credit for the good things happening in his game.

Ask about raising his level of play in the postseason, and the Lightning center points out how his teammates have done the same. Ask about emerging as one of the game's top players, and he talks about how far he still has to go.

But if you really want a shrug of indifference, ask Richards about his six winning goals that tied the playoff record held by Colorado's Joe Sakic and Dallas' Joe Nieuwendyk. No one else in the playoffs has more than three.

"I don't know why as far as game-winning goals and all that stuff," Richards said Wednesday. "You just want to help the team as best as possible. That just happens."

Sometimes it is luck. Richards' goal in Game 2 gave the Lightning a 2-0 third-period lead. It was huge because it gave Tampa Bay breathing room. But it didn't become the winner until Calgary's Ville Nieminen scored late in a 4-1 game that tied the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.

But most of the time it is skill such as when Richards scored the overtime winner in Game 3 of the East semifinal with the Canadiens by purposely banking the puck off the skate of Montreal goalie Jose Theodore.

Tampa Bay is 7-0 in the playoffs when Richards scores. He has assists on two other winners and will get serious consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP if Tampa Bay wins the Cup.

"This is the time when people are looking at you," wing Martin St. Louis said. "This is when you take steps in your career from good player to great player."

"Over time there are certain players that score timely goals and very important goals, and he's done a great job doing that for the Lightning," Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "You can't put all of it on luck. You have to be in the right place at the right time. You have to have the skill and a lot of patience to capitalize on those chances."

And a willingness to get your nose dirty.

Richards, 24, did not have a physical element to his game when he came into the league in 2000-01. Coach John Tortorella tried to change that. Adversity helped get the message through.

Richards did not have a goal in last season's 11 playoff games and went through an awful scoring slump in December. So Richards began paying more attention to his forecheck and determination along the boards. He also positioned himself closer to the net; areas in which physical play increases.

"He told me to play more physical," Richards said of Tortorella, "not because you're going to throw people into the third row, but it's a mind-set of going out there and thinking you can do it and maybe taking a little bit of a beating on your body sometimes. It's something that gets you the puck more and things happen."

At 6 feet 1, 194 pounds, Richards can handle it. But there was another change, too.

"I just want the puck more," he said. "Being willing to take more of the abuse is a big part of it sometimes. Last year I don't think I did that."

"He has been a very consistent player right on through," Tortorella said. "That's a reason why we have the opportunity to be playing these games now this time of year. For us to continue to play a few more games, he needs to continue."

Game 3 tonight at the Pengrowth Saddledome will be a stern test after the fight-filled third period of Game 2 in which Richards was involved.

The Prince Edward Island native, second in the playoffs with 21 points on nine goals and 11 assists, isn't concerned. He's having too much fun.

"Someone told me to enjoy the excitement and nervousness because you might never see it or it might never be that good again," Richards said. "You've got to relish it and accept the challenge."

"He's just going to continue to get better," Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk said. "He's a guy who can lead teams."

And win games.

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