- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mike Richards didn’t know last fall where he’d be when the calendar turned to April. As it turned out, he’s back where he expected.

Richards, in his 11th season in the NHL, will be making a ninth appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday when the Washington Capitals open their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

It’s a familiar spot for Richards, who is one of only a handful of players who played in the teams’ previous playoff series in 2008. Richards, then playing for the Flyers, helped knock the Capitals out of the postseason with a victory in Game 7 of the best-of-seven series.

No particular memories from that series linger, Richards said, and in some ways, he can be excused for forgetting them. The Flyers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final that season before being bounced, and Richards later had a pair of more memorable runs when he won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014.

In the playoffs, though, teams’ depth will be tested, which means Richards is expected to be the steadying presence he has been since joining the Capitals in early January.

“I think when you have expectations, you try to do more than what you’re used to,” Richards said. “If you just play your game — we’ve played 82 of them this year already — [and do] what you’re going to do, you might have a little nerves off the start of games, but once the game settles in, it’ll just be hockey again, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Playing hockey again was a good thing for Richards, who was sent to the minor leagues by the Kings last season because of unsatisfactory play and then was released in June. That’s when Richards was hit with drug possession charges that were later dropped while trying to cross the U.S. border into Manitoba.

A two-time 30-goal scorer, Richards played in the Capitals’ final 39 games of the regular season, primarily as their fourth-line center. He had just two goals and three assists in his bottom-six role, initially filling a role vacated by the injured Jay Beagle and then, upon Beagle’s return in late February, complementing it.

“Everyone has their unique story of how they got here and why this is important to them,” said Justin Williams, a former teammate of Richards‘ with the Kings. “Mike’s is a redemption story. It’s a redemption story of getting himself back and being a meaningful, productive hockey player, and he has been that for us.”

Richards had two goals and five assists for the Flyers in that first-round series eight years ago, scoring on a penalty shot in the third period of Game 2 and then a power-play goal in the first period of Game 6.

He finished that playoff run with seven goals and seven assists in 17 games and was even more productive two years later, scoring seven goals with 16 assists as the Flyers advanced to, but lost in, the Stanley Cup Final.

Shipped to the Kings in June 2011 in exchange for Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, both of whom are still with the Flyers, Richards would have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup twice in the following three seasons.

“He’s a well-respected guy for a long time in this league,” said Capitals right wing Tom Wilson. “Any time you can add a piece like that, it’s really for the best.”

Richards‘ signing was similar to that of Williams, who joined Washington on a two-year contract in July. At the time, coach Barry Trotz praised Williams’ playoff success as a valuable factor on a team that has been starved to reach it, and adding Richards only strengthened that dimension.

“He has an ability to sort of have a real good perspective and slow things down when everything gets kind of hectic,” Trotz said. “That’s why I think guys will lean on him. I think he’ll be a good influence with our group, which he has been all year, but I think, in the playoffs, he has been a player who finds a way to affect a game in a positive way every time he’s in the playoffs.”

Confident in his ability to still contribute to a team, Richards bristled at the idea that returning to the postseason served as any kind of personal achievement. It’s certainly not any type of restitution and it doesn’t lead to any additional level of appreciation.

“I don’t know if I’m thankful,” Richards said. “I’m excited for it, though. That’s for sure.”

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