Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012: The Blue-Collar Blueshirts

NHLPAContributor IIIApril 17, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15: Joe Vitale #46 of the Pittsburgh Penguins battles for possession with Brad Richards #19 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 15, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Although the pursuit of this year’s Stanley Cup has only just begun, Brad Richards admits there have been a few occasions when his thoughts have fast-forwarded to the potential final outcome.  

After finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference and earning coveted home-ice advantage throughout the postseason, Richards and his New York Rangers teammates were tasked with taking on an upstart Ottawa Senators club in the opening round of the 2011-12 playoffs.

For Richards, who won a Cup as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04, the idea of adding another championship title to his resume is certainly an enticing one.

Has he thought about what it would be like to hoist hockey’s most prized team trophy over his head in a ticker tape parade through Manhattan?

“For sure,” admitted the veteran forward, who had 26 points in 23 games for the Lightning during their cup-winning campaign, a year in which he also was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. “It’s happened a few times. You can't get too far ahead, though.”

Especially, Richards notes, when each game and each opponent presents a tough challenge.

New York took the first game in their matchup with Ottawa, but the Senators came back with an overtime victory in Game 2 of their quarterfinal set to even the series.

“They're a very talented team,” offered the 64th overall selection in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, of the Senators. “I can't remember every game we played against them. I know we played them twice early in the season. The regular season schedule, lots of teams can beat anybody on any certain night."

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 06:  Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers is congratulated by teammates after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL game at Consol Energy Center on January 6, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Rangers
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“They're still a talented team,” he continued. “If you want to give them time and space, they can score a lot of goals. That's probably why they did it to us. We weren't as sharp as we'd like be.”

Richards was once again razor-sharp in the regular season, using his strong playmaking skills and defensive efforts to help the Rangers top the Eastern standings.

And while New York has plenty of firepower in the form of Richards, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan and others, the native of Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island points to their balanced, unselfish approach as the key reason for their success.

“Well, blue-collar probably, I guess,” said Richards, in explaining the best way to describe the Rangers. “But, you know, it's that workmanlike mentality. We probably don't have as much talent as some of the teams throughout the lineup, but we make up for it with the work ethic and blocking shots, playing strong defence.”

The 31-year-old, who signed a nine-year, $60 million contract as an unrestricted free agent with the Rangers on July 2, 2011, is focusing on raising the bar on his game each time he takes to the ice.

“It’s all about expecting the best from yourself game in and game out,” said Richards, who scored his first goal as a New York Ranger in a 2–1 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on October 8 in a game played at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. “That becomes even more important in the playoffs. Regardless of the outcome of the game, if you had a great or off night, you have to be ready for any situation and to want to make a difference out there."

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 26:  Brad Richards #19 of the New York Rangers celebrates a goal in an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on December 26, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Being held off the scoresheet, he opines, doesn’t necessarily translate into a subpar performance.

“There will be games where you don’t score for whatever reason, but there is always something you can do to help the team win,” said Richards, who scored 91 points with the Lightning in 2005-06 and the Dallas Stars in 2009-10. “That’s the way we look at things. Everyone plays an important role and anyone can make that big play.”

Richards, who had nine game-winning goals in the 2011-12 regular season, will look to create some game-changing plays of his own as the Rangers look to net their fourth Cup victory and first championship since 1994.

He doesn’t need to be reminded just how tough of a task it will be.

“It’s what we all play for and what we all dream about,” said the veteran of 65 career NHL playoff contests. “But in order to realize that dream, you have to make sure you lay everything on the line every single night.”

All quotes for this article were obtained first-hand.

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