PHILADELPHIA – In the battle between young captains in the Stanley Cup final, Philadelphia’s Mike Richards finally drew first blood.
The gritty centre stole a puck from Niklas Hjalmarsson just five seconds into a first-period power play and slid home his first goal of the series to spark the Flyers to a 5-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 on Friday night.
Chicago counterpart Jonathan Toews has yet to score, has only one assist and is minus-3 thus far.
The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2, with each team winning twice at home. Game 5 goes Sunday in Chicago.
“It’s nice to take part in a series,” said Richards. “It’s not our best games, but I don’t think we were playing poorly. We just weren’t creating as much or had the same energy as previous series.
“So it’s nice to contribute and get the win. It was physical game, back and forth, and the score finally got to where the game was.”
Richards, who now has a goal and an assist in the four games, remains minus-4 for the series. Linemate Jeff Carter had an empty-net goal in the final minute.
With both Toews and Richards struggling, much of the damage in the series has been done by lesser lights. Claude Giroux and Ville Leino scored for the Flyers in Game 4, while Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp had goals for Chicago.
But with character players like Richards and Toews, it is only a matter of time before their names find their way onto the scoresheet. The two Canadian Olympic team gold medallists are both known for battling hardest in tough, tight games.
“He’s a great player,” Richards said of Toews. “He does so many (more) things than just score goals.
“He’s great defensively. His hands are so quick on a faceoff it’s hard to even get a tie with him. So even though he may be a little snake bitten, he does so much to help the team.”
In Game 4, Toews won a remarkable 24 of 33 faceoffs, several of them against Richards as the top lines from each team—Toews with Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien versus Richards with Carter and Simon Gagne—were often matched against one another.
“Do I like that? No,” said Richards of the faceoff statistics. “They’re a tough line to play against.
“They’re quick offensively, they’re talented and defensively sound. There’s not a whole lot of room to skate against them. It’s a lot of neutral zone hockey. And they have a pretty good defence pair (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) that goes out with them, too.”
Philadelphia has won seven straight playoff games at the Wachovia Center and have a 9-1 post-season mark overall at home.
Richards’ teammates were not surprised to see their captain set the tone early.
“It was a huge goal,” said Lieno. “He’s a great leader and a great player—just what we need on this team. That whole line was good. I think it’s coming.”
The Richards’ line combined for 13 of the Flyers’ 31 shots.
“We’re just trying to get pucks to the net, and eliminate being cute with the puck,” said Richards. “Just keep it simple, try to relax and play hockey.”