Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards has been in this exact position before — on home ice in Game 6 of a series trailing 3-2 after being down 3-0 in the series. The first time of course was four long years ago and 3,000 miles east of Los Angeles as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers in their second round series against the Boston Bruins. Richards’ Flyers would of course win that series. But now the teams and factors have changed, and Richards and longtime running mate Jeff Carter (who was injured in the Bruins series in 2010) are prepared to finish the dramatic comeback this time against the San Jose Sharks.
When Mike Richards arrived in L.A. in 2011 he was supposed to be a 70-80 point producer who brought physicality, tenacity and leadership to a young Kings squad. While his passion, tenacity and leadership are apparent, it seems Richards’ offense was left in Philly. His points per game average is down since coming out west, and with the exception of some postseason heroics he’s been more like a third line grinder than a star player earning more than $5 million. In this postseason, sans a goal in the Kings’ Game 4 win he has been almost a non-factor as his ice time has gone up in each game as the coaching staff has been desperate to get him going. When players such as Trevor Lewis and Tyler Toffoli are making a bigger impact on the series than a former Canadian Olympian still in his prime, that’s saying something.
Given the amnesty provision in the new CBA, the Kings could rid themselves of his contract this summer and give both sides a fresh start. A proud player like Richards surely doesn’t want to be “amnestied” by the team he helped deliver the Stanley Cup to less than two years ago. If the Kings get eliminated and Richards continues his no-show, Dean Lombardi will be forced to rid the team of his massive contract and look for scoring elsewhere (Thomas Vanek, anyone?). Whether he accepts it or not his future in L.A. could very well depend on his play in Games 6 and (if it happens) 7.
The mantra of “one shift at a time” and “play your game” will need to be stressed by players throughout the lineup, but especially by Richards. Having the experience of being in this situation before surely makes Richards’ words resonate even louder in the Kings’ dressing room. It sounds like something out of a comic book, but if Richards elevates his play and plays like he did in Philadelphia he will save not only the Kings’ season, but possibly his career in Los Angeles. It’s time for the former Kitchener Ranger to don his Superman cape and go to work; the city, the team and his future with both are riding on it.