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Rivals turn linemates as Richards, Crosby join forces

by Dan Rosen
VANCOUVER -- Fans in Philadelphia may have a collective coronary on Sunday because their captain will be skating on the same line as that other captain.

Mike Richards is the newest addition to Sidney Crosby's line, and that's something fascinating altogether considering the rivalry these two Canadians have during the NHL season.

"I'm not worried about that, I'm worried about the present now," Richards said. "We're both competitive people and we play hard against each other when we play each other, but we're all pulling in the right direction now for Team Canada."

Richards practiced Saturday on Crosby's left side, meaning Rick Nash will move over to the right. He had skated on Crosby's left side for the first two games. Richards, though, is the fourth guy coach Mike Babcock will be trying out on that line.

Patrice Bergeron started the tournament on the right wing but before long it was Jarome Iginla in that position. He had a hat trick in Canada's opener, but the chemistry did not come back Thursday against Switzerland so Babcock went back to Bergeron before turning to Jonathan Toews late in the game.

"It's easier to play with him than against him," Richards cracked.

Before these Olympics, Richards and Crosby were teammates in the 2005 World Juniors and 2006 World Championships. However, they never played on the same line.

"I played with him a little bit (on the power play) in the first game here, but that's about it," Richards said.

For Richards, who was mostly a fourth-liner for the first two games, it means he has to play on the wing. He has played some wing already in this tournament, but now it'll be on a regular shift instead of in that fourth-line rotation.

That will require some adjustment on his part.

"I'm starting to feel more comfortable with it now than I was before," Richards said. "You still play some wing back home going back in the D zone, but I'm starting to feel more comfortable with it and I'm starting to get better with it. I am sure as the tournament goes on I'll get better."

Richards said the key to his comfort is communication. Again, Flyers fans may not like it, but he'll have to talk at length with Crosby.

"It's just a mindset and you go over things before periods of what you need to do so you don't get yourself in trouble," Richards said. "You don't want to change your game too much. When you do that you start getting in trouble and out of your comfort zone. As long as you keep it simple and play your game I think you'll feel right at home."

Crosby isn't concerned. He said Richards, Iginla, Bergeron and Toews are all "complete, they can score and they are reliable defensively, so I don't think there is a difference."

He did agree that finding the right guy to play on his opposite wing is important for the team. Crosby is, after all, Canada's most important player and probably its best, too. For him to be complete, he has to feel comfortable with his wingers.

"You look at a team, it's not one line, it's the balance," he said. "The best balance we can have or the most consistent chances we can produce as a team, that's probably the way it's going to stay. It's typical in a short-term event like this to see the lines changing."

Even if it means NHL rivals have to stand side-by-side while their hometown fans go bonkers.

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