PHILADELPHIA -- Mike Richards may never again experience another regular season quite like 2009-10.
Richards, the Philadelphia Flyers' captain, admits the need to reflect, long and hard, about what transpired during his career-high 82-game journey before speaking publicly about it. In the meantime, however, he'll continue doing what he does best, which would be leading the Flyers in his fourth playoff season.
And don't think for a second that head coach Peter Laviolette hasn't taken notice.
"He's been our best forward (in the playoffs)," Laviolette said. "I guess in all ways -- defensively, his play with and without the puck and his situational play. He's leading by example."
It seems illogical, but with all the controversy surrounding Richards this season, he still led the Flyers with 62 points and finished second with a career-high 31 goals. He also led the team in power-play goals (13), power-play points (31) and average ice time among forwards (20:24 per game).
"It was a weird year," Richards told NHL.com. "I haven't looked back on it or anything like that; haven't really had a chance to get my bearings. But it's been an up and down year, for sure."
It all started with the open-ice hit he delivered to Florida's David Booth on Oct. 24 and continued with the seemingly daily reports of his happy-go-lucky nightlife and subsequent boycott of the local media. The Flyers' poor play resulted in the December firing of coach John Stevens, which hurt Richards personally.
"I think Johnny leaving was the biggest effect," Richards said. "He was obviously a good friend and a guy that advanced my career in a hurry. He was a guy that I leaned on and he put me in that offensive role that helped make me the player I am, so him leaving was tough."
Then came the rumors of a divided dressing-room, which immediately were squashed by veteran defenseman Chris Pronger.
"Whoever started that (rumor) is dead wrong," Pronger told the (Camden) Courier-Post. "There is no locker room divide."
Richards feels his relationship with Pronger, particularly after their gold-medal winning experience with Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics, is strong.
"We talk every day," Richards said. "We obviously won together. He was a great person to have around at the Olympics. I was almost hanging off his coattails to see what to do and I get along with him extremely well."
Truth is, Pronger and Richards actually have a lot in common.
"He's tailor-made for the playoffs," Pronger told NHL.com of Richards. "I think a player who plays the way he does -- gritty, tough-in-the-hard-areas type of game, is what you need this time of season. He gets behind the net and plays physical. He's played on the big stage on many levels, so he's had a taste of what it takes and has risen to the occasion in each instance. He's definitely a guy who relies on his game and rises to the occasion."
Richards' linemate, Daniel Carcillo, doesn't believe there's another player in the League capable of doing as much on the ice.
"I think he's thick-skinned and you have to be doing what he's doing at the age he's doing it," Carcillo told NHL.com. "I don't think there's another player like him in the League, with the way he can defend, score, hit and lift everyone's spirits up. He doesn't say much in the room, but he leads on the ice and it's hard not to play hard, especially when you're on his line or even not on his line and watching from the bench -- it gives you energy."
Craig Berube said Richards, 25, has answered all his critics with his play throughout the season and not just this postseason.
"I think there was a lot of stuff going on this year, on and off the ice, and for me, he's been a real solid player all year long as a captain and leading our team," Berube said. "He shows up every night and plays hard and his game picks up in big games. It's picked up in the playoffs. I think his going to the Olympics was good and I think that helped him out a lot. He's had to deal with a lot of stuff this year, but he did and he's playing well."
Richards leads the Flyers in playoff scoring through five games with 8 points, including 2 goals, while leading all Philadelphia forwards in ice time (22:12 per game) and faceoff winning percentage (53.7 percent). He said March was a struggle mentally and physically following the two-week grind of the Olympics, but he began to find his legs again in April.
"We get to see him lead every day, and the fact he's now leading the team in scoring and he's doing what he does with a couple of high-profile guys out of the lineup to injuries, he's getting more recognition," General Manager Paul Holmgren told NHL.com. "Mike Richards is a gamer. When the big games come around, there's no worry from my perspective and I don't believe from the coach's perspective, what we're going to get from him -- that's the 100-percent effort you need every night.
"It doesn't mean he's going to play his best game every night, but his effort always is going to be there and that's what you need from your leaders."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org