- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

TAMPA, Fla. — After scoring a career-high 74 points last year but faltering with no goals in 11 playoff games in his postseason debut, center Brad Richards vowed he wouldn’t let his Tampa Bay teammates down again come spring.

Richards certainly has fulfilled his promise, tying the injured Ruslan Fedotenko for the team lead with 10 goals — second among all NHL players — heading into last night’s Game5 of the deadlocked Stanley Cup Finals with Calgary. Among those 10 goals were a record seven game-winners including the lone goal in a Game4 the Lightning had to win to avoid near-certain elimination.

But ask Richards about surpassing such illustrious names as Joe Sakic, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri and Mario Lemieux and he bristles.

“I’d rather not talk about the game-winners anymore,” Richards said after Game4. “I’ve been asked probably 15 times already. It’s great to score goals, but it’s not like I scored seven in a row in overtime. A lot of those goals were scored in the first period or the second period. You can’t control whether they’re game-winners.”

No, but Richards, 24, definitely has raised the level of his play now that he knows what to expect come playoff time.

“Richie is playing differently,” Lightning coach John Tortorella said. “He learned last year how hard it is to play in the playoffs. The Jersey series last year was so tight-checking and we didn’t know how to fight through it. Guys learn lessons. Richie is certainly one of those guys. He chews on the game, and to have what he felt was a letdown I’m sure bothered him all summer, and he prepared himself.”

Fellow Tampa Bay standout Vincent Lecavalier has known Richards since their days in the Saskatchewan Junior League nearly a decade ago and isn’t surprised by his success.

“Brad has always brought up his game whenever he needed to,” Lecavalier said. “He won the Memorial Cup in juniors. He’s a leader and he adapts to the game very well. He got 60 points his first season [with Tampa Bay in 2000-2001], and from there he took off.”

Even though Richards outscored Lecavalier 79-66 this year, the latter was chosen for the All-Star Game. However, Richards was a surprise pick over Lecavalier and Philadelphia center Keith Primeau for the team that will represent Canada in this summer’s World Cup.

“It’s a dream come true any time you get to play for Team Canada,” said Richards, who did so in the World 2000 World Juniors and the 2001 World Championships. “But we’ve got a lot bigger things here with this team first.”

Game 5 indicators

Of 18 previous final series that were tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner went on to take the Cup 14 times.

Worth the wait

Before this spring, Calgary had missed the playoffs seven straight years, a record drought for a team reaching the finals. The Flames also are trying to match the 1995 New Jersey Devils as the only teams since the NHL’s first expansion in 1967-1968 to win the Cup without having home ice advantage in any series.

The Lightning are the 17th team and third in three years to make its finals debut since expansion. Only five of the previous 16 won their first trip to the finals: Philadelphia (1974), the New York Islanders (1980), Pittsburgh (1991), New Jersey (1995) and Colorado (1996). Carolina and Anaheim fell short in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

Newfoundland’s own

Twelve of the players in the finals spent time with Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate at St. John’s (Newfoundland). They are ex-Flames Chris Dingman, Martin St. Louis and Cory Stillman of Tampa Bay, and Calgary’s Chris Clark, Mike Commodore, Chuck Kobasew, Jordan Leopold, Dave Lowry, Steve Montador, Krzysztof Oliwa, Robyn Regehr and Oleg Saprykin.

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