MONTREAL _ Captain Mike Richards didn’t score any points Saturday afternoon, but he made plenty of them on Thursday night after the Flyers’ embarrassing 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
His teammates took Richards’ comments to heart and they responded with one of their best efforts of the season, a critical 3-0 win over Montreal that put the Flyers in the driver’s seat in this strange Eastern Conference finals.
Strange because there has been no late-game drama in any of the four contests.
Strange because the Canadiens _ whose offense was lively against Washington and Pittsburgh in its two early-round stunners _ have been blanked three times in four games.
Strange because Richards, who rarely if ever criticizes his teammates, blasted them after Thursday’s lackluster effort.
That shows he is growing into his captaincy role, shows he is maturing into a leader.
In case you missed it, Richards called Thursday’s loss “an old-fashioned ass kicking. They handed it to us right from the get-go. I don’t know if we felt if we just put our sticks on the ice it was going to be easy.”
He also said that “maybe we got a little cocky, a little full of ourselves _ just thinking we can go out there and play. This was a long way coming. We didn’t play all that well even in the first couple games; we relied heavily on our power play” in those games.
And then he challenged his teammates.
When he was asked if Thursday’s lopsided loss was a wakeup call, Richards said, “It better be. I’m not calling anyone out. It’s myself leading. It’s going out on the ice and playing for it, instead of just going out there and hoping.”
A good captain isn’t one who just says things to spark his team.
A good captain is one who, because of the respect he commands, gets his teammates to RESPOND to what he says.
That happened Saturday, pushing the Flyers to within one win of playing in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997.
Coach Peter Laviolette said benching feisty winger Dan Carcillo Saturday was “the toughest thing I had to do all year."
Andreas Nodl and Carcillo were healthy scratches because Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere returned to the lineup.
Carcillo has not been as effective since suffering a knee injury in the previous series against Boston.
“Danny’s a valuable part of the team, and I love Danny Carcillo and the way he plays the game,” Laviolette said. “If two are going into your lineup, then two people have to come out, and it’s just one of those tough decisions.
“You’ve got people who have sacrificed to bring you this far. He’ll play more games for us, but tonight I had to make a decision, and those are tough ones because he’s a good kid. He’s a valuable part of the process that got us here, and there’s just not enough numbers to go around.”
To his credit, Carcillo didn't complain after the game. He had been playing on the top line, with Richards and Simon Gagne, and had contributed six playoff points, including an overtime goal that defeated New Jersey in Round 1.