Follow His Lead
At the end of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Prince of Wales trophy had Mike Richards’ fingerprints all over it.
Fittingly, the series clinching game did too.
Monday night, the C on number 18’s orange jersey could have been an S, and no one would have been able to tell the difference. It was physicality. It was grit. It was determination. It was the captain doing his job. And doing it rather emphatically.
Mike Richards absolutely willed his team into the winner’s circle Monday. Montreal scored within the first minute of action, and then subsequently went on a power play. Every Flyers fan could hear the refrain in their heads. The bags would be packed, and the team was heading back to Montreal for a game six. That was until ‘the shift’ happened. If you didn’t see the highlights, find them. In a matter of seconds, a team that looked lifeless and hesitant to strike the final blow to a staggering opponent suddenly woke up. It was number 18 that threw the ice water in their face. Richie set the tone, and the team would follow suit.
After his impressive game five, Richie has enjoyed media attention of a positive kind for a change (This of course exempts Pierre McGuire’s slobber fest every time the Flyers play on NBC). He’s been scrutinized for partying too much, fingered as being too young for the captaincy; a claim that only gained steam when the team acquired Chris Pronger in the past offseason. Through it all, he has been mostly even keeled. Although he once stopped speaking to the media this season because of their tireless efforts to put him on the cross, here he is. He’s leading the headlines, leading the Flyers, as well as leading most remaining players in the Conn Smythe race. Vindication? How could his recent play NOT be vindication? Quite simply, he has taken the reigns of the Flyers’ magic carpet. The great part about following Richie is that you won’t catch him basking in the glory. His soft-spoken nature off the ice is refreshing (although at times extremely frustrating for a fan), almost as much as his competitive fire on the ice.
Now, he will encounter another soft-spoken wonder captain in Jonathan Toews. If the playoffs ended today, Toews would easily win the Conn Smythe in my opinion. His play has been nothing short of spectacular, leading Chicago through the extremely tough Western Conference and bringing them to the hallowed ground of the Stanley Cup Finals. The two are familiar with one another, as they combined to score Team Canada’s first goal in the Gold Medal game last winter in Vancouver. Now, we will see who will fare better on the game’s biggest stage.
Every analyst will pick Chicago, every fan (except those in orange and black of course) will favor the Blackhawks in the matchup and there should be NO debating that they should be the favorites. With that being said, favorites don’t get their names etched on that gorgeous silver chalice of Lord Stanley’s. The winner will have endured a grueling series keyed by defense, special teams and goaltending. It most likely won’t be pretty. It will be a challenge that must be endured for the greatest good in hockey.
Physicality may trump speed.
Grit may trump style.
Determination may trump God-given talent.
For Mike Richards and Flyers fans, that may be a good thing.