TAMPA, Fla. – Former Tampa Bay captain Dave Andreychuk talked of the 2004 Stanley Cup-winning Lightning, players from that team arriving to watch Game 1 tomorrow.
“Yeah, I heard that. I didn’t get a call yet,” Brad Richards said to laughs.
Richards has been to Tampa plenty of times since he was traded from the Lightning to the Dallas Stars in 2008. But for Richards, who helped the Lightning win that 2004 Cup and who won the Conn Smythe Trophy for his individual efforts, to have the chance at another Cup – this time with the Blackhawks – and to see his former teammates is something special.
“A few guys came in for my 1,000th game this year in Chicago. I got to see Vinny (Lecavalier) last night with our kids together, which was a totally different feeling than 10-15 years ago,” Richards said. “Just so many great memories.”
Andreychuk said the Blackhawks, who are making their third Cup appearance in the past six seasons, were smart in getting Richards.
“A great signing by the Chicago Blackhawks to bring in a guy that just loves to play and loves to compete,” he said. “I’ve been watching the playoffs and I’ve been in contact with him. 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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Richards signed with Chicago last July 1, not long after he and his former New York Rangers teammates lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Final. After playing such a huge role in Tampa, Dallas and New York, on the ice and in the locker room, Richards needed time to find his niche with the Blackhawks.
“I don’t want to say it’s an intimidating team but it’s a tough locker room to walk into. They’ve done so much winning and you try to find your role. They have so many offensive guys, not like the other teams I’ve played on where you get a lot of minutes on the power play or a lot of offensive minutes. It’s a lot more spread out here,” he said. “It took a while to figure out where I could fit in.”
Richards found great November/December success when teamed with Patrick Kane. The two were together again most of this postseason until coach Joel Quenneville went to his usual late-playoff move in moving Kane to Jonathan Toews’ line. Be it the previous combination or the one now, where he’s with Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa, Richards has been steady this postseason. He’s gotten at least a point in six of his last seven games, including two assists in the Blackhawks’ Game 7 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
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“He got a chance to play with Kaner and took off. It looked like there was a little magic there, looked like he got more quickness to his game, more puck possession,” Quenneville said. “I think he’s had a real good second part of the season. Coming into the playoffs, he’s been real good for us.”
Bickell said he’s seen Richards grow more comfortable as the months passed.
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“Over the course of the regular season, from changing from where he was to coming here, he had some ups and downs when he wasn’t happy. But for the last few months he’s been excited,” Bickell said. “He knows what it takes to get the goal and we need him. He’s a guy who’s going to get offensive chances and hopefully me and Hoss can help him out.”
Richards won’t get a chance to see many of the 2004 Lightning players coming in for Wednesday’s game. Obviously, he’s a little busy right now. He would love to make some new Cup memories with the Blackhawks. The ones he made with the Lightning will always be with him.
“No matter what happens this week, can never take anything away from the 2004 team,” Richards said. “I’ll never try to compare runs; they’re all special. It’s great to see those guys no matter what’s going on.”