Rich Hofmann: Down 0-2 to Boston, Flyers captain trying to right ship

Posted: May 04, 2010

BOSTON - The captain's burden is enormous right now, and Mike Richards is wearing it well. Double-shifted at times, killing penalties, playing a ton of minutes, he has been the Flyers' best forward against the Boston Bruins. But all he and his teammates have to show for it is two losses.

Without leading scorer Jeff Carter, without veteran two-way threat Simon Gagne, without penalty killer Ian Laperriere, more and more has been piled upon Richards - and he really has been excellent. Thirty-six shifts and 23:13 of ice time last night bespeak both the regard in which he is held and the desperation of his team's current situation.

"It's playoff time," he said, with a verbal shrug. "Obviously, desperation, you need to have there."

He talked minutes after the Flyers lost another one-goal game to the Bruins. The first was in overtime. This one, a 3-2 loss, was decided when Boston's Milan Lucic scored in the game's 58th minute.

To play well enough to win both games on the road but to win neither of them - it is the kind of thing that could crush some teams. As captain, that is now part of Richards' burden, too. Bedeviled by inconsistency all season, the Flyers get one more chance to bounce back - and Richards did his best to draw a road map while standing on a little interview riser in the Flyers' dressing room.

"All year, it seems like when we've taken steps backward, we come back with a great effort," Richards said. "Especially at home, we've done a lot of great things. Maybe a little bit inconsistent throughout the year, and [we] lost some games in a row, but we've always seemed to bounce back, especially at home. We're going to have to do that. It's going to be a gutsy effort in Game 3, and we're going to need it."

If they would follow Richards' lead, they might be able to find that extra goal they need. He scored another goal last night in the first period, his fourth of the playoffs and his 12th point. He has at least a point in six of the Flyers' seven playoff games. If they could only follow . . .

Then again, maybe this is the part of the playoffs where the absences of Carter and Gagne really begin to show. What they are trying to do is exhausting - playing without two of their top six forwards, and also playing from behind for long stretches of both games.

Chasing, chasing, it wears on you. And then when you are killing penalties in the middle of the third period - too many men on the ice and then Danny Briere for hooking, pretty much back-to-back - well, as coach Peter Laviolette said, "You get those big horses and that's where you feel the effects of those guys that are out of the lineup . . . "

It just piles more and more pressure on a guy like Richards. Of the forwards still standing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby has averaged more ice time per game than Richards, and only a couple of seconds at that. He still looks strong, but he is being asked to do a ton.

Laviolette mixed-and-matched and did everything he could to get Richards peeks of the ice when Zdeno Chara, the Bruins' No. 1 defenseman, was on the bench. It was hard to do in Game 1 - Chara was with Richards on 34 of 39 shifts. Before the game, Laviolette was saying, "You're right, [Chara] has been out there a lot. I guess, no, I would probably rather have a different matchup, but it seems no matter when [Richards] goes out there, Chara will double-shift if he has to."

Still, Laviolette was more successful last night with the chess match. And it led to Richards' goal.

With Chara on the bench, Laviolette sent Richards over the boards to replace Claude Giroux in the middle of a shift, playing next to Briere and Ville Leino. The Bruins didn't have time to match with Chara, and the result was that Richards had room to maneuver in the offensive zone, then wheel and fire the puck past Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask.

It tied the game at 1-1. Near the end of the second period, Briere would score a sniper's goal to make it 2-2. But that was it, no matter how much the coach changed the lines and leaned on his key performers.

"We did a lot of good things," Richards said. "That's why you play 82 games, to get home-ice advantage. We're going back home, where we feel comfortable, and there's nothing to dwell on. We just have to win one game in this building."

This is a man who knows desperation, who lives with it, who thrives on it, 36 shifts a night. And so, it was with another verbal shrug that Mike Richards said, "The next game's obviously pretty big."

Send e-mail to hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

For recent columns go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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