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Return Flight: The Shift

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Mike Richards ruled.

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the season, we’ll be taking a walk down memory lane whenever the Flyers open their season series against an opponent. We’ll be remembering a game, goal, or highlight Philly created while playing against that particular team. It won’t always be the most notable memory the Orange and Black have against that team, but it’ll be something that Flyers’ fans will want to remember.

Mike Richards was the complete package. With the skillset of a high-end NHLer, Richards was more known for the heart and hustle he provided every night to become the leader on some pretty competitive Philadelphia Flyers’ teams in the late 2000’s. He is the all-time leader in shorthanded goals while down by two skaters and the only player to ever play with two different teams to complete a comeback after trailing in a series 0-3. His last play as a Flyer was diving to block a Shawn Thornton shot on an empty net with half a minute left in an eventual 5-1 loss to allow the Boston Bruins to sweep Philly in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals. For all the things that could be said about how much Richards competed and laid it on the line every night, one play epitomizes it all.

After the Flyers’ Cup-winning postseasons of 1974 and 1975, the 2010 postseason is arguably the third-best playoff run in franchise history. Either of the runs to the Stanley Cup Final in the 1980’s that resulted in losses to the powerful Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty would be a fine choice for this honor, but everything that went into the 2009-10 Flyers’ regular season and the events that took place during the four series of the 2010 playoffs provide a pretty strong argument to be the best postseason that didn’t result in a title for Philly.

As mentioned in a few other Return Flights, the 2009-10 Flyers’ season was nuts. The team sat 29th in the league in December, turned it on in January and February, and ultimately squeaked into the playoffs thanks to the famous shootout win over the New York Rangers in the season finale. As the seven seed, the Orange and Black walked over the New Jersey Devils before completing one of the best comebacks in sports’ history against the Bruins to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

The team the Flyers faced in the 2010 Eastern Conference Final was the Montreal Canadiens, a team that was on a pretty magical run of their own. Thanks to the stellar play of Jaroslav Halak and a team-wide approach of playing the trap, the Canadiens were the first eight seed to overcome a 3-1 series deficit against a one seed, who happened to be the 121-point Washington Capitals in the first round. Montreal proceeded to beat Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in seven games as well despite the fact they trailed 3-2 after five games. Halak posted a .939 save percentage on 231 shots against in the series against Washington before he stopped .927 percent of the 219 shots he saw against Pittsburgh. The Slovakian netminder entered the ECF with a save percentage of .933 and, surprisingly, zero shutouts.

Whether it was the Flyers still flying high after they completed their improbable comeback just days before or Halak finally losing steam, the Orange and Black trucked the Habs in Game 1 of the series by a score of 6-0. Some bums named Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk each had two-point games while each member of the Ville Leino-Danny Briere-Scott Hartnell line had two-point games as well. Halak got pulled after Simon Gagne’s power-play goal 9:53 into the second period was the fourth goal he allowed on the Flyers’ 14th shot of the game. Michael Leighton stopped all 28 shots he faced for his first shutout in the NHL playoffs.

It was more of the same in Game 2, as the Flyers blanked the Canadiens by a score of 3-0. Leighton denied 30 shots for back-to-back playoff shutouts and only needed Briere’s laser on a power-play rush just 4:16 into the tilt. Gagne potted his second of the series in the middle period and Leino added on a real ‘uh oh’ goal for Canadiens’ fans midway through the third period to finalize the score. Halak denied just 20 of 23 shots in the loss.

As the series shifted to Montreal, the Canadiens made it a series with a 5-1 decision in Game 3. Despite the final score, Hartnell made it known that this wasn’t going to happen again. In a crucial Game 4, Philadelphia grabbed a 3-1 series lead thanks to their second 3-0 victory of the series. Giroux danced around Josh Gorges to open the scoring 5:41 into the second period and closed the scoring with an empty-net goal with 1:13 left in regulation. In between Giroux’s two goals Leino provided a beautiful finish on an incredible multi-line pass from Chris Pronger for his fourth tally of the 2010 postseason. Leighton made 17 stops for his third and final career shutout, all of which came in the 2010 Eastern Conference Final. Leighton joined Bernie Parent (four in 1975 postseason) and Pelle Lindbergh (three in 1985 postseason) as the only Flyers’ goalies to post three or more shutouts in the same postseason, and is the only Flyer ever to post three shutouts in a single playoff series.

The Flyers headed back to Philly with a chance to clinch the series. Through the first four games of the series the team that had scored first won and the team that had trailed first only produced one goal, which is why Brian Gionta’s goal just 59 seconds into Game 5 was a pretty tough pill to swallow. With Kimmo Timonen in the box for roughing (lol?), the Flyers’ captain decided to buck that trend.

The monster hit at the blue line, the great setup for Braydon Coburn’s chance, the backcheck to break up a rush, and outworking the competition near the end of a shift to tie up the game. All the traits that made Richards a popular captain in Philly rolled up into one shift. The amazing individual effort made it a 1-1 game just 4:25 into the contest and the Flyers never looked back, as goals from Arron Asham and Jeff Carter 1:24 apart put them up 3-1 early in the second. Carter’s empty-net goal (assisted by Richards) with 22.1 seconds left iced the 4-2 win to send the Orange and Black to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1997.

The Flyers magical run came up just short, as the Chicago Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup in overtime of Game 6. Richards endured one more season in Philadelphia before being traded in June of 2011 to the Los Angeles Kings, where he won two titles in three seasons. He ultimately ended his career after a short stint with the Washington Capitals in 2016.

*All stats via Hockey Reference and NHL.com

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