The Chicago Blackhawks needed seven games to get past the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final and earn the right to play for the Stanley Cup for the third time in six years. Should they have to go the distance against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the final round of the playoffs, their chances of raising the greatest trophy in sports are very good as they possess the ultimate lucky charm in Brad Richards.
Richards’ perfect record in Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Playoffs remained intact as Chicago prevailed in the deciding contest against Anaheim. It marked the third consecutive postseason in which the Ducks lost a Game 7 at home and the eighth time in as many Game 7s that Richards’ team came away victorious.
Ironically, Richards began his Game 7 success in 2004 while playing for his adversaries in this year’s Final. He recorded two assists against the Philadelphia Flyers in the decisive contest of the Eastern Conference Final and notched one versus the Calgary Flames as the Lightning captured the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.
Richards finished that postseason with 12 goals and a league-high 26 points, earning him the Conn Smythe Trophy. He now is presented the opportunity to have his name engraved on the Cup for a second time as he faces off against his former team.
“It’ll be special,” Richards told the Chicago Tribune. “I grew up as a player and as an adult human being there. A lot of great friends there still… It’s going to be special, but I want to win (another) one. We’ll worry about friendships later.”
After his 2004 championship run, Richards did not make another Game 7 appearance until eight years later, making two early playoff exits with Tampa Bay and reaching the postseason only once in four campaigns with the Dallas Stars before joining the New York Rangers in 2011-12. While he rarely landed on the scoresheet, the Prince Edward Island native built his seventh-game legacy with New York, going 5-for-5 in such contests during his three postseasons with the club.
The Rangers ousted the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals in the 2012 conference quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, before again taking down the team from the nation’s capital in the first round the following postseason. Richards recorded a grand total of one goal in the three games, but improved to 5-0 nonetheless.
A third-round pick of Tampa Bay in the 1998 draft, Richards made two more Game 7 appearances with New York during the 2014 playoffs — and was instrumental in the team’s second victory. After finishing the conference quarterfinal game versus Philadelphia without a point, the veteran scored what proved to be the game-winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the following round, converting a power-play chance at 7:56 of the second period to snap a tie as the Rangers held on for a 2-1 triumph.
In his first, and possibly only, campaign with the Blackhawks, Richards missed the final three games of the regular season with an upper-body injury and was kept off the scoresheet in the first four games of Chicago’s opening-round matchup with the Nashville Predators. He recorded a goal and two assists over the final two contests of the series and set up a tally in the opening game of the conference semifinals against the Minnesota Wild but failed to register a point in the next three as the Blackhawks completed a sweep.
The 35-year-old raised his play several notches versus the Ducks, beginning the showdown with a four-game point streak and finishing the series with seven points. Richards collected two assists in the Blackhawks’ 5-3 win in the decisive contest as he joined Hall-of-Famers Ray Bourque and Glenn Anderson as the only players in NHL history with eight Game 7 victories.
While putting himself in the exclusive group, Richards has no secrets to reveal regarding his success. Admitting Game 7s are thrilling, he does nothing special to prepare for them other than to try to enjoy them.
“They’re probably the greatest memories you’ll have in your life,” Richards told the newspaper. “We play so many games through the year that are tough to mentally get yourself to certain levels. But when you get into playoff games, and then you add to it Game 7s with the chance to get to the Stanley Cup Final, there’s no better feeling waking up that morning knowing the whole hockey world’s watching.”
The hockey world certainly will be watching Richards and his Blackhawks as they attempt to claim another championship. They’ll have to find a way to shut down a team that got past the Detroit Red Wings, the Atlantic Division champion Montreal Canadiens and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers in order to do so.
Should the Lightning do the unthinkable and go the distance to defeat Chicago, Anton Stralman will join Richards in the elite club of players with eight Game 7 victories. The Swedish defenseman went 5-0 in deciding contests while a teammate of Richards with the Rangers before Tampa Bay edged Detroit in the first round and New York in the conference final this postseason.
However, Richards is hoping the Blackhawks take care of business without the need of a seventh game. But should it come to that, he will do his best to savor the opportunity.
“You just try to enjoy (Game 7s) because it will go by quick,” he said. “Someday, you’ll be sitting back reminiscing about all those great memories. So try to make them worthwhile.”