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Richards on Lombardi: 'I didn't make it easy on him'

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Richards on Lombardi: 'I didn't make it easy on him'

Weeks before the Capitals signed free-agent center Mike Richards to a one-year, prorated, $1 million contract, Caps right wing Justin Williams said Richards’ eventual return to the NHL would be “a great redemption story.”

“Any time your ego takes a hit, which his did, as a proud guy you want to shove it up somebody’s (expletive deleted) and prove something to somebody, even if it’s just yourself,” Williams said.

On Tuesday night at Verizon Center, Richards will have the chance to prove the Los Angeles Kings wrong on so many levels. He says it’s not about that, and never will be.

This time last year, Richards was playing for the AHL Manchester Monarchs, cast off by the Kings after recording five goals, 10 assists, a minus-7 rating and winning less than 50 percent of his faceoffs in 47 games with the Kings.

“I don’t have any,” Richards said when asked if he has any hard feeling about being sent to the minors last season. “I mean, it is what it is. It’s not much help to burn bridges. It’s hockey and I’m happy to be here now and I’m a true believer that everything happens for a reason, so we’ll see how this plays out.”

Being demoted to the AHL was just the start of what became a tumultuous year for Richards, a year that included being charged with possession of a controlled substance, being bought out of his contract by the Kings, and sitting in hockey exile for the first three months of the season.

And then there was the written summation Kings general manager Dean Lombardi gave to the Los Angeles Times, in which he described Richards as his “own Derek Jeter,” only to see him go on a “destructive spiral” that eventually led to his arrest.

Asked how he looks back on his four seasons with the Kings, two of which ended with Stanley Cups, Richards said, “Obviously, it was good. Two Cups and I’ll never complain about that.

“Was there struggles sometimes? Of course, there’s struggles. But at the end of the day we had a really good team and I loved being out there and part of the organization. It was a good group of guys out there, too, so it made it much more enjoyable and obviously having success adds to that.”

RELATED: Caps' comeback falls just short as Stars hold on for 4-3 win

Asked specifically about Lombardi and his Derek Jeter comparison, Richards said, “That’s pretty high praise, Derek Jeter. I don’t know how to answer this question to be honest, but I thought at the end our relationship was good, to be honest. Obviously, he had to make some moves and he had to do things he probably didn’t want to do, but at the end of the day I didn’t make it easy on him, either, to keep me around. So, I want to say fault on both parts, but probably more so me than him and he had to do what he had to do to what he thought benefited the L.A. Kings.”

Since signing with the Capitals in early January, Richards has split time between the third and fourth lines and has no points in 10 games while averaging 12 minutes of ice time and winning 55 percent of his faceoffs.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Richards’ value to the Caps shows up in ways that cannot be measured on the score sheet. It’s his perfect record in Game 7s during the playoffs. It’s his ability to win a key draw at a crucial moment of a hockey game. It’s his willingness to win a puck battle when a defensive clear is needed.

“His foundation is his detail and the defensive part of the game,” Trotz said. “You can make a pretty good living doing that. It’s all about trust and I have a lot of trust in Mike.”

Trotz said that when he and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan met with Richards in December, he felt both sides had done their homework on each other.

“I told him we had a team that has a chance,” Trotz said. “We’d be one of the contenders when it comes down to the final 16. I still believe that. I thought he would be a good fit. I think he did some research on me and our staff. I just tried to be honest with him.

“I think he was a player – probably no different than Ovi – where a lot of people make assumptions and a lot of people have perceptions and it’s not necessarily reality. Once you’re in that locker room and you’re playing every night, competing with or against Mike Richards, that’s the only way you find out the person. He’s been as advertised coming in for us.”

Richards, who turned 31 on Thursday, says he spends little time thinking about proving  the Kings or anyone else wrong and is driven by only one thing.

“It’s winning,” he said. “That’s all it’s about. I think I realized early in my career I’m probably not going to get 50 goals (a season) or 500 like Ovi. You get a taste of that Cup and you just want to win every year. That’s what it’s all about now. Whether you get 100 points (or) 20 points, it’s all about ending the season with a win.

“As a competitive athlete you just want to go out and do well. It’s not proving people wrong. If you’re looking to do that you have other issues, probably, if you’re in the sport to do that.

“It’s more just about getting the best out of yourself and taking advantage of the opportunities you’re given. Really, it’s being a part of the NHL and doing your best to have success.

“You don’t want to sit back during the summertime and say, ‘What if I did this?’ Or, after your career is over say, ‘What if I did that?’ You try to live in the moment and do the best that you can.”

MORE CAPITALS: It's OK to exhale, Kuznetsov passes concussion tests

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.