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Stars need Richards to shine tonight

by Larry Wigge

The Stars are hoping Brad Richards, who has 58 points in 59 career playoff games, will come through for them tonight. Brad Richards highlights
Brad Richards is one of those marvelous quick-twitch, now-you-see-him, now-you-don't athletes who can quickly flit in and out of the picture while doing something pretty special.

And it's just that kind of magic the Dallas Stars are looking for at this point in the Western Conference Finals down 2-0 to the Detroit Red Wings heading into Game 3 tonight (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS).

"There is no better time than the playoffs," the 27-year-old Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island native said. "This is the time of the year when you want to make an impact. This is why I agreed to waive the no-trade clause in my contract and agreed to a trade from Tampa to Dallas."

Richards had one goal and four assists in helping the Stars knock off the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks in six games in the first round and one goal and five assists in six games in the conference semifinals against the San Jose Sharks. But there's been no abracadabra or magic against the Red Wings. So far ... it's just been poof!

"You can't take your eyes off of Brad for a moment," Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said, admitting that he thought Richards was starting to do some things with the puck in Game 2 that might lead to more offense as the series shifts to Dallas. "He lulls you into thinking he's just looking to make a pass. That's when he lets go of one of his sneaky-quick wrist shots."

This situation is exactly what the Stars’ hierarchy was picturing when they acquired Richards and goaltender Johan Holmqvist, plus Brad's hefty $7.8 million contract through 2010-11, from the Tampa Bay Lightning for goalie Mike Smith and wingers Jeff Halpern and Jussi Jokinen.

"Richie is an opportunistic guy, a special player," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "A lot of times, he not only creates the turnover, but then makes the play that results in a goal."

"As far as I'm concerned, Brad Richards is a sure thing," co-GM Brett Hull said after making the trade. "We have a guy who has won the Stanley Cup, won the Olympic gold medal, won the Conn Smythe Trophy. To me, there's no risk, not when you're adding a player like this who is in the prime of his career."

Richards has clearly been a big-game performer in the past. He came into this season with 18 goals and 29 assists in 45 playoff games -- and that includes the 12 goals and 14 assists, plus six game-winning goals, he had in leading Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup in 2004.

"It's difficult to come into a new locker room in the course of a season," Richards said. "On one hand, you just want to fit in, help the chemistry of the team. On the other hand, you want to make an impact right away."

You don't just pack up seven years of great memories like the Richards had in Tampa Bay and fly across the country to Dallas and then play in a game in Chicago the next night without leaving some strong feelings behind. But Richards is one of those ready-for-action, ready-for-anything guys. Forty-eight hours later, he quickly he was there, in Chicago, where he left a first impression that was, uh, memorable. Five assists in a 7-4 victory against the Blackhawks.

The Lightning didn't want to trade Richards, but they had been trying to balance his contract along with those of stars Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Dan Boyle against against Tampa Bay's salary cap.

"Being traded was something I never went through before. It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be," Richards said. "It was the weirdest couple of days of my life. One minute I was practicing with the Lightning and going on a golf outing with my teammates and the next morning I was told to stay home and wait for a call. We had a lot of success and a lot of fun in Tampa, but going through what I went through the last year and a half ... it was miserable.

"My parents were in town and they came over to my house to be with me. We didn't know for sure what was going to happen. I wasn't going to waive my no-trade clause for just any deal. There was talk about other teams, but Dallas is a team that appealed to me from the start because they looked to me like they might be playing into June. We thought Dallas looked like a good place to be if I were to be traded. You know, a chance to do something in the playoffs, but ..."

We all know there are no guarantees in the playoffs. But Brad was impressed with his new teammates, saying, "They welcomed me with open arms. All I wanted to do was fit in."

The Stars acquired Richards to give them strength up the middle with Mike Ribeiro and Mike Modano. That’s a more solid trio than the Dallas team that won the Stanley Cup in 1999.

Richards is one of those players who shows you his passion and creativity whether its on the ice or just trying to elaborate on what he was thinking when he was making one of those magical, big-player, big-time, big-situation plays. He was born to play hockey, not fish for lobsters like his dad, Glen, and mom, Delite, do for a living on their 45-foot boat that carries the names of their children, Brad and Paige.

I remember asking Brad about his parents and their fishing business during the 2004 Final and I was surprised to hear that Glen couldn't stick around for Game 4 at Calgary, in which his son scored the only goal in a 1-0 thriller.

"Well," Brad explained, "He wanted to. But business calls -- and that means getting up at 4 a.m. and having his lobster traps ready. Every day but Sunday. Hey, I'm the son of a fourth-generation lobsterman ... even if I don't like waking up at 4 a.m. to go out there. Maybe that's what drove me out of there to maybe make it the NHL. I'm not sure."

Drive. Passion. Production.

"Has anything about Brad Richards surprised me since he got to Dallas? No ... not really," said former NHL goalie Daryl Reaugh, who serves as analyst on the Stars games these days. "Great skills. Great awareness and vision on the ice. Terrific passer and that lethal wrist shot.

"Oh, yeah, what is it two League records that he's established in just 22 games since he got here. Not too many players make that kind of impact so quickly."

Quick. Instant impact.

This is exactly the kind of situation the Dallas Stars were thinking about when they threw out their line trying to reel in a big fish at the trading deadline and weren't afraid to spend a lot to get Brad Richards.

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