Richards' goal stands as winner ... again

Updated: June 1, 2004, 3:37 AM ET
By Jim Kelley | ESPN.com

CALGARY, Alberta -- The difference in total distance from high stick side to high glove side on Calgary Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff isn't much. If he's fully extended, it's roughly four feet (1.22 meters if you chose to follow this line of thinking in Canadian).

MOST GAME-WINNING GOALS
ONE PLAYOFF YEAR
GW PLAYER, YEAR (GAMES)
7 Brad Richards, Tampa Bay
2004 (20 GP)
6 *Joe Sakic, Colorado
1996 (22 GP)
  *Joe Nieuwendyk, Dallas
1999 (23 GP)
5 Mike Bossy, N.Y. Islanders
1983 (19 GP)
  Jari Kurri, Edmonton
1987 (21 GP)
  Bobby Smith, Minnesota
1991 (23 GP)
  *Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh
1992 (15 GP)
* - won Conn Smythe Trophy
Not surprisingly, that made a world of difference to Brad Richards, the Tampa Bay Lightning and their battle with the Flames in the Stanley Cup finals.

Two nights before in Game 3, Richards, arguably Tampa's most accurate shooter, was in alone on the Calgary goalie early in the game and went high on Kiprusoff's stick side. Kiprusoff deflected the shot with his arm, and shortly thereafter the Flames scored, breaking open a tight game en route to a 3-0 win and a 2-1 lead in the series.

When the opportunity presented itself in Game 4, Richards went to the opposite side. This time, his rising shot from the point on the power play found the net, and Tampa's goal of staying in touch with the series rose right along with it.

"The other night, he really did make a great save," Richards said. "I thought ... I really did think I scored, and that could have changed the game. And I knew tonight that, whether it was me or someone else on the power play, when you get a shot almost inside the top of the circle, in the wheelhouse, you have to try to do something with it."

What Richards did was make a shot that not only was the difference in the game but had an impact on the series and on history.

Had the Lightning lost, it would have been a catastrophic blow to their Stanley Cup chances. Now it's all even with two of the next three games scheduled in Tampa.

The goal was Richards' seventh game-winner of the playoffs and broke the record he once shared with Colorado's Joe Sakic and then-Dallas forward Joe Nieuwendyk. Sakic and Nieuwendyk both won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. It could happen for Richards, but he's not going there. Not yet anyway.

"I'm not thinking about records, I'm thinking about helping the team," he said. "You score a goal that early and you don't know that it's going to hold up. It's not like I've scored seven game-winning goals in overtime ... You can't control whether they're game winners. That just shows how the team plays and shuts down the opposition."

True, but there was some skill involved nonetheless.

The game was less than two minutes old when Tampa got a 5-on-3 power play, the result of Chris Clark crosschecking a player at the same time Mike Commodore was holding another. The simultaneous calls were controversial by Calgary standards -- perhaps because no one suffered a serious injury -- but play did carry on.

After a couple of failed efforts, Dave Andreychuk gained possession down low, held the puck until Richards moved from the point to inside the top of the left faceoff circle, to Kiprusoff's right, then flicked him a pass that Richards one-timed to the far glove side.

"It was big to convert that 5-on-3," Richards said. "They had killed us on that once before [in Game 2].

"I didn't think it would be the winner, but I thought it was an important goal because it gave us momentum."

It's hard to imagine momentum even exists in a series that has gone back and forth like a heavyweight fight (replete with numerous blows to the head and body). Still, Richards was adamant in his assessment, and the way the series has played out to date, one play, just moving a shot in a little bit different direction, can make a difference.

"One of the things the coaches asked of us was to make more plays," Richards said. "To do that you have to hold onto the puck more. On that play, their defenseman, I think it was [Rhett] Warrener, had moved to his [Kiprusoff's] stick side so I went for the glove side."

In hockey terms, it's called stepping up.

Richards, a native of Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island, was all but called out by name on Sunday when Tampa coach John Tortorella said his team needed more from "our skilled players." That doesn't necessarily single out Richards -- there are other scorers on this team -- but a guy knows a challenge when he hears one.

"Yeah, I heard him say that, and I do put extra pressure on myself, but then so do a lot of guys," he said. "I scored a goal, but everyone worked to make that stand up."

Richards' record-setting spring comes in the wake of a fabulously successful regular season where he scored a career-high 79 points (26 goals, 53 assists) and didn't miss a game. The effort didn't get him a Hart Trophy nod, a la teammate Martin St. Louis, but it did help him emerge from behind the media hype surrounding St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier.

It also caught the attention of his coach.

"He doesn't get the exposure that maybe the other guys do. But that's partly on him, because Brad's not one to draw attention to himself," Tortorella said. "I know, though, that he commands a lot of respect on our team and he's well thought of in our locker room."

That's not the only place. Wayne Gretzky was criticized for leaving Lecavalier off Team Canada's roster for the World Cup of Hockey. But Gretzky said early and often during the selection process that he was looking for players who could perform under pressure. With an NHL playoff record of seven game-winning goals, Richards fits the mold.

"A lot of times, it's that extra effort, that little split second that gets you there a little ahead of time," said teammate Jassen Cullimore. "Brad has been doing that all season long and been getting key goals for us."

It does make a difference.

Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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