Chicago Blackhawks center Brad Richards celebrates after scoring during NHL hockey practice for the Stanley Cup Finals, Tuesday, June 2, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. The Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara
June 02, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Brad Richards wanted another chance at his second Stanley Cup after the New York Rangers lost to Los Angeles in last season's final.

An offseason phone call from Chicago general manager Stan Bowman helped make it happen

Richards and the Blackhawks play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night at Tampa Bay, where the 35-year old forward and the Lightning won their only NHL title back in 2004.

''It's just trying to get back there,'' Richards said Tuesday. ''I forgot how special it was. When Chicago called it was a no-brainer. When the Blackhawks call, especially in the last six, seven years, you perk up pretty quick.''

The 2004 Lightning featured a core of talented youngsters like Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis - and Richards, named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the postseason player most valuable to his team. After beating Calgary in Game 7 of the finals on home ice, it looked start of a run for Tampa Bay.

But then came the canceled 2004-05 season and the establishment of a salary cap. Those changes and other factors led to a different roster - and there were no return trips to the final.

''Who knows if we would have won another one?'' Richards said. ''It would have been fun to keep the group together longer and kind of ride it a bit. That's life.''

''I don't know if you can call it regret,'' Richards added. ''I think it's unfortunate how it all happened. It's no one's fault. You had to be living on the moon if you didn't think there was going to be a lockout. It's unfortunate that we all didn't get to come back. It was tough to see it all go like that, but it doesn't change what we did.''

Richards, like Blackhawks greats Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, found out that winning that second ring is elusive. Hull and Mikita were both in their early 20s and looked like part of a budding dynasty when the Blackhawks won the 1961 Stanley Cup. But they never again lifted the Stanley Cup.

General manager Stan Bowman recalled the sales pitch he made to Richards after Chicago lost to Los Angeles in seven games in last year's conference finals. The Kings went on to beat Richards and the New York Rangers.

''In talking to Brad, obviously his desire was to play on a strong team, have a chance to get back to the final,'' Bowman said. ''He ended the year in a tough way. Losing in the final is difficult. ... I think it didn't take too long to convince him that this is an appealing option.''

Coach Joel Quenneville acknowledged that Richards didn't immediately get a lot of time on the ice with his new team, including star Patrick Kane.

''I think he got better with a little bit more ice time,'' Quenneville said. ''Got a chance to play with Kaner. Took off. Looked like there was a little magic there. Looked like he got more quickness to his game, more puck possession. I think he got more comfortable in our system. He made good improvements over the course of the season. That line gave us a dimension offensively and trust defensively, which we were looking for.''

David Andreychuk, the captain of the 2004 Lightning, played 20 years before making his first finals' appearance. For Richards, Andreychuk's words then were prophetic.

''There's a resounding message that it's very hard to get to this point,'' Andreychuk said. ''I said it in `04 to the Richards of the world that just because you're 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 years old, you might not be able to get back here.''

Richards, with two goals and nine assists in this year's playoffs, has filled a void at center as the Blackhawks look for their third Stanley Cup championship in the six years.

''A great signing by the Chicago Blackhawks to bring in a guy that just loves to play and loves to compete,'' Andreychuk said. ''He's excited to be here knowing that his last Cup was in this building. But he's another one of those guys that it's living proof that it's hard to get back here again. For him, he's going to have to seize that opportunity.''

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