-- Philadelphia Flyers
center Mike Richards
was emotionally and visibly spent as he stood at his locker and answered questions from reporters following his team's dramatic overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils
in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal on Sunday.
And really, who could blame him?
The Flyers captain topped all forwards on his team in ice time (21:49) and notched a goal and an assist with a plus-2 rating in his biggest game to date -- a 3-2 triumph that gave the underdog and seventh-seeded Flyers a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the second-seeded and Atlantic Division champion Devils.
"I'm pretty exhausted right now," Richards said. "I think emotionally, it's draining, but it's nice to get the win. We would have been that much more tired if we got the loss, so you try to leave it all out there every night. You don't want to save anything for the next day, so you try your best on game day."
Richards did that and his teammates just followed along.
"He's our leader," Flyers forward Ian Laperriere
said. "We're going to go as far as Ritchie is going to take us. It doesn't matter if it's a goal, an assist or a big hit. It's great to be on the same team as a player like that -- it's contagious. To see your young captain do stuff like that brings you a reality check that you should do the same if your captain, who's an All-Star, is doing it."
Richards gave the Flyers their first lead of the game at 1:15 of the second when he took a feed from Daniel Carcillo
and fought off a check in the slot before roofing his second goal of the series over the blocker of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur
He'd play a big role on the game-winning goal 3:35 into overtime, too, when he somehow controlled a feed from Simon Gagne
at the right post and took a jab at the puck before sending a perfect feed to Carcillo in the left circle for the clincher.
"I thought everyone played hard," Richards said. "If you go in the change room, you'll probably see a dozen guys sitting on the couch sprawled out, so it's nice to see how hard everybody is working and finishing hits. I'm sure people have ice bags. This is the best time of the year to play hockey."
Richards felt his team played well enough to win, outshooting (34-19) and outhitting (40-36) New Jersey and generating more turnovers (11-8) over the course of the 63-minute, 35-second contest.
"We played well in the third period, stayed out of the box and played extremely well 5-on-5; we just wanted to get pucks to the net," Richards said. "There wasn't a whole lot of that needed to be said (during the third intermission)."
So would it have been a disappointment if they didn't come out on top?
"Yeah," he said. "We played well and executed our game plan, with the exception of taking penalties at bad times. We played with energy and emotion and fed off the energy provided by the crowd."
Despite the great team effort and win, Richards knows the Flyers can ill afford to continue to give the Devils opportunities on the power play. New Jersey finished 2-for-8 with the man advantage and is now 3-for-16 for the series.
The reason is elementary: More time in the box translates into many more tired bodies on the bench.
"Lappy (Laperriere) and (Blair) Betts get hit with a lot more pucks so they're probably feeling it even more, but it is draining throughout the game when you're on the penalty-kill," Richards said. "It's a lot easier and a lot more fun to play offense than it is defending, so it's something we have to address and something we have to be aware of. But I did like our enthusiasm and energy. But there's a line we have to draw."
Richards, who also chipped in with three hits and won 53 percent of his faceoffs, leads the Flyers with 6 points in three playoff games against the Devils. His career best in the postseason was in 2008, when he had 7 goals and 14 points in 17 games.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale