"It was one of those funny things where you just kind of feel that we had a lot of energy and that we were excited for the game."
What Richards was feeling was apparently on the money. From the opening minutes yesterday, the Flyers made it clear that they were not willing to turn this best-of-seven, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series over to the Penguins, scoring two quick goals, and finishing with a 6-3 win.
The Penguins lead the series, 2-1, with Game 4 tomorrow night at the Wachovia Center.
The win was by no means a complete reversal of the series. The Flyers did not just have their way. Pittsburgh scored in the final 12 seconds of the first period and tied the game, 2-2, in the opening 13 seconds of the second period, and league scoring champion Evgeni Malkin had two of the Penguins' three goals, keeping the game from becoming an overly convincing win for the Flyers.
But with a huge comeback game from rookie Claude Giroux, who blamed himself for the overtime loss with the slashing penalty that put his team down five-on-three, a leading performance from their best players, the Flyers have snatched back both pride and momentum to get them into Game 4 with a belief that they can win this series.
Giroux scored one goal and set up Simon Gagne for a shorthanded goal on a play that only a gifted player can make, spinning in a tight twist away from Kristopher Letang to get to the opposite side of the net to feed Gagne.
"I saw Simon going to the net and was just trying to play it safe and fire it far post and it ended up on his stick," Giroux said. "It was pretty good."
But it was not that simple a play, and his coach knows it.
"He shows a lot of composure at a young age in a pretty intense environment," John Stevens said. "He's been known to have elite vision. That play he made to Gagne, I'm not sure there are many players that are capable of making a play like that.
"He didn't just throw it there blind, he hung onto it. [Gagne] has great offensive instincts and he threaded the needle and got it to the back post."
So now the series is in a completely different place than it could have been and with a ton of positives to build on. Jeff Carter scored, Richards scored, Gagne had two goals, rookie Jared Ross scored his first NHL goal and Marty Biron had a 26-save game.
But now comes the reality check.
Pittsburgh has four games to win two and the Flyers have to win three. Pittsburgh has home ice. The Flyers have come back from down 0-2 only twice in 13 tries, and of the last 20 league series, no team has come back from 0-2. The last time was Edmonton against San Jose in a 2006 Western Conference semifinal.
"The focus today was just on one game," Stevens said. "We know we had to win a game to get back in the series. You can't come out of this game feeling too good about yourself.
"It was a hard-fought game. Both teams expended a lot of energy and we have one game and now we have to get ready for the next game because it seems each game gets tougher and we certainly can't rest on that game. We have to try and play better as we move through the series."
It was, however, a good start.
The Flyers needed to change not just their fortunes but also the tone of the series, and they did that in the first period.
Carter, scoreless in the first two games, opened the scoring at 2 minutes, 59 seconds, taking a drop pass from Joffrey Lupul, skating in and backhanding the puck over Marc-Andre Fleury for a 1-0 lead on the first shot of the game.
The Flyers made it 2-0 on their first power play. Richards took a pass from Mike Knuble and from the corner fired the puck toward Gagne, who was at the net. The puck never made it but went instead off the stick of Penguins winger Craig Adams' stick and in.
The game's physical tone got cranked up right after that when Chris Kunitz, who went after Kimmo Timonen in the first game, went after him again, leaving his feet and going at the Flyers' defenseman's head.
Timonen downplayed the hit and brushed aside suggestions that Kunitz is targeting him.
"No. No. No. Next question," he said, adding, "I was in a bad position."
Scott Hartnell, however, chased Kunitz and started swinging, with both getting fighting majors. For this one penalty, it was the right thing to do. A pile of bodies and swinging fists followed, with Giroux fighting Tyler Kennedy and Darroll Powe fighting Letang.
The Penguins scored with 12 seconds left in the first. Max Talbot went in on Braydon Coburn and drove him off the puck, Ruslan Fedotenko swooped in and swept it out front for Malkin, whose goal made it 2-1.
Pittsburgh tied the game at the start of the second on a Rob Scuderi point shot.
It could have been the beginning of the end for the Flyers, but they didn't back down and scored twice, one from Giroux and then the shorthanded goal by Gagne, to take a commanding, two-goal lead after two periods.
In the third, after Ross' goal, Malkin zipped a puck high and past Marty Biron, cutting the lead to 5-3. Sidney Crosby missed an open net with just over 3 minutes left. It would have made it a close finish, but Gagne added an empty- netter.
"It was more than another game for us, coming back home in that hole we were in," Biron said. "You saw the way we started, the way we needed to start any game down the stretch. But you saw the desperation and it carried on through the game.
"You've got to be careful in the playoffs. Momentum is a dangerous thing. We feel it is something we can build on. But we've got to take it for what it is.
"There's some positives but there are things we can do better. It's a playoff series. It's not just the one game, but it helps to play the way we did today." *