DALLAS – Brad Richards did only one thing wrong in his Dallas Stars debut. He raised expectations impossibly high.
Richards had an assist on just his second shift, then added two more helpers in the second period and another two in the third. The five assists matched a franchise record and were a first since the club moved to Dallas. The five points were a career high and the most by a Stars player in five years. His handiwork also set up new linemate Niklas Hagman’s first NHL hat trick.
Anything else? Oh, yes – the Stars beat the Chicago Blackhawks 7-4 Thursday night. Dallas has won four straight and 13 of 15 to get within three points of Detroit for the top spot in the Western Conference.
“I’m so happy to be a part of this,” said Richards, acquired Tuesday from Tampa Bay, which has the worst record in the East. “They’ve got a good thing going here. I went from looking like I’d be done the first of April to making a good run at (the Stanley Cup).”
Richards added that he “felt like a little kid again” because he was so nervous about how he’d fit in on his new team. Of course, passing out gifts at a rate like this will make him real popular, real quickly.
“It was a good solid first outing,” coach Dave Tippett said with a smile.
Richards had 18 goals and 33 assists in 62 games for the Lightning, but co-general manager Brett Hull saw the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as someone who could turn a good offence into a great one this post-season. He was so sure of it he convinced owner Tom Hicks to take on the final three years of a contract that pays US$7.8 million per season, while Richards agreed to waive a no-trade clause.
Hicks probably feels even better about it now. Team stalwart Mike Modano sure does.
“We brought in an elite player and he is going to make us better around him,” said Modano, who had a goal and an assist. “I think talent and skill guys never have a hard time adjusting and coming in and fitting in on a team. If anything, they raise their level and everybody raises theirs right with them. Those type of players are few and far between that can make an impact like that.”
Wearing No. 91 – a reverse of the 19 he’d worn his entire career with Tampa Bay – Richards got fans’ attention the first time he stepped on the ice, opening his shift by winning a faceoff at centre ice. Then he set up the tying score only 49 seconds after his team had fallen behind, putting a long pass right on the blade of Hagman’s stick at the lip of the goal for a tap-in score.
Hagman smiled wide and pumped his fisted glove toward Richards in appreciation. He repeated the gesture in the second period after scoring another goal on a play started by Richards, then Hagman gave Richards a few taps on the helmet after their third hookup, which came in the third period.
“He’s really good with the puck,” Hagman said. “For me, the way that he plays works. It definitely helped our team a lot.”
Trevor Daley, who had only two goals all season, scored on Richards’ least fancy set-up of the night. Jere Lehtinen was the benficiary of Richards’ final assist, on a power play with 3:11 left.
Richards, who’d never had more than three assists in a game, was a plus-2 in 19:16 on the ice. He won seven of 13 faceoffs and was among the first unit on the power play. He even got physical, shoving a Chicago player during a third-period staredown.
“It’s a lot of fun to play with these guys,” Richard said. “I just have to keep that excitement level up and who knows what’s going to happen.”
Chicago slipped to 7-3-1 in its last 11 games. The Blackhawks are 1-8-1-2 in their last 12 trips to Dallas.
Dustin Byfuglien put Chicago up 1-0 on a power-play goal 4:08 in, but then Patrick Lalime allowed five goals on 13 shots and was pulled midway through the second period. Lalime was coming off his first shutout in more than a year the previous night.
“That’s what happens when you make mistakes against a team like that,” Lalime said.
The Blackhawks got two goals from Rene Bourque and another from Andrew Ladd, but all after trailing 5-1. Bourque’s first goal was short-handed.
Notes: There was one other five-assist game in the NHL this season – and Richards played in that one, too. It happened against his Tampa Bay Lightning, when Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf did it on Dec. 13. … Two Minnesota North Stars had five assists: Murray Oliver and Larry Murphy. … The Stars have outscored foes 11-0 in the second period of their last few games. Dallas is the NHL’s top team in the second period, holding a 72-42 scoring edge. … Richards has always worn 19 because Joe Sakic was his favourite player. He had to reverse the digits in Dallas because that number is among three retired by the club. This one hangs from the rafters in honour of the late Bill Masterton.