A Lightning's Thunder Playing With A New Edge, Skilled Center Brad Richards Has Been Tampa Bay's Go-To Scorer

June 06, 2004

Hockey may be a religion in Canada's Maritime Provinces, but
lobsters are a living. So you can understand Glen Richards's
dilemma last week. His heart told him to travel to Calgary to
watch his son, Tampa Bay center Brad Richards, battle the Flames
for the Stanley Cup. But Glen's head told him to man his lobster
boat in Murray Harbour, a face-off dot of a fishing village on
the southeast tip of Prince Edward Island, where May and June is
harvesting season. "I figure the lobsters will always be there,"
says Glen, who flew the 3,000 miles to take in the Lightning's
3-0 loss in Game 3 last Saturday. "A chance to go to the Stanley
Cup finals doesn't come around too often."

At dawn on Monday, Richards pere was back in Murray Harbour,
dragging 100-pound traps out of the Atlantic. That night Brad
helped Tampa Bay inch closer to hoisting the 35-pound Cup. His
first-period power-play goal in Game 4 led to a 1-0 Lightning win
that sent the series back to Florida tied at two games apiece.
"Usually at this time of year I'm home eating lobster and
watching the playoffs on TV," Brad said after Game 3. "It's nice
to be in them this year."

With top-gear speed and a sonic slap shot, Richards, 24, has the
skills to complement the Lightning's other top forwards, Hart
Trophy candidate Martin St. Louis and the supremely gifted
Vincent Lecavalier. But even though Richards scored a career-high
79 points in the regular season, his profile remained below sea
level until the postseason. Heading into Game 5 on Thursday, he
has 21 playoff points, tied with St. Louis for the team lead.
Seven of Richards's ten playoff goals have been game-winners,
surpassing the NHL record held by the Colorado Avalanche's Joe
Sakic (1996) and the Dallas Stars' Joe Nieuwendyk ('99). Tampa
Bay is 30-0-2 this season when Richards scores, including 8-0
this postseason. "He reminds me of Sakic, with the way he
battles," says Lightning defenseman Nolan Pratt. "In this
[locker] room he's certainly not overlooked."

Richards's reputation, or lack of one, wasn't enhanced by his
flameout in last year's playoffs, when he failed to score in 11
games and Tampa Bay was eliminated in the second round. The weak
performance underlined what Lightning coach John Tortorella had
long said: The 6'1", 194-pound Richards needed more sand in his
game. Last Dec. 23 Tortorella--who expects gritty play from
everyone on his team--hauled Richards into his office between
periods of a game in Boston and chewed him out for failing to
block a shot in the defensive zone.

That same night Tortorella benched Lecavalier, and while the
coach and the star engaged in a public spat in the ensuing weeks,
Richards--who says he was "embarrassed" by his
dressing-down--quietly remade his game. He dropped anchor in
high-traffic areas in front of the net and began clawing through
checks to gain and keep the puck. Twenty of his 26 goals came
after Jan. 1. "Richie has the tools to make great plays," says
Lightning associate coach Craig Ramsay. "He had to understand the
price you have to pay to make them."

Richards potted the decisive goal in Tampa Bay's 4-1 victory in
Game 2 of the finals when he crashed the net and swept a loose
puck past the Flames' Miikka Kiprusoff. Later he tangled with
Chris Clark in Kiprusoff's crease. If the Lightning wins the
series, champagne isn't all that will fill the Cup when it visits
Murray Harbour this summer. As Glen Richards mused on Saturday,
"A nice big lobster would fit in there perfectly."
--Stephen Cannella

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA COMIN' THROUGH A willingness to claw his way past traffic hashelped Richards net 10 playoff goals, including seven game-winners.