BRANDON, Fla. (AP) There’s nothing like the Stanley Cup playoffs to make Brad Richards feel young again.
The two-time Stanley Cup champion is in the postseason for the 10th time during a 16-year career that includes stints with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and his current team, the Detroit Red Wings, who squeezed into the playoffs for the 25th consecutive season.
Richards began his career with Tampa Bay, helping the franchise win its only Stanley Cup in 2004, and couldn’t be happier about facing his former team in a best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series that begins Wednesday night.
“This last month all thoughts were on whether we were going to make it or not,” Richards said after practice Tuesday, when he also reminisced about early playoff experiences, including the Lightning’s surprising championship run 12 years ago.
He won another Stanley Cup a year ago with the Blackhawks, who defeated Tampa Bay in six games.
“It’s amazing once you get in,” said Richards, who has 36 goals and 68 assists in 141 playoff games.
“Last night was tough sleeping. You start thinking about the crowd, the attention. This is why you play. This is why you go through that grind of 82 games and train all summer to get yourself ready because there’s nothing like this time of year,” said Richards, who turns 36 on May 2.
“And the way the NHL is now, you just don’t know what can happen when you get on a run and get confidence.”
The Red Wings and Lightning also met in the opening round of last year’s playoffs, with Tampa Bay advancing in seven games.
The defending Eastern Conference champions enter the postseason at less than full strength, with leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos out after undergoing surgery for a blood clot near his right collarbone. Defenseman Anton Stralman (broken left leg) will miss the series, too.
Some things to know about the Lightning and Red Wings:
STOP THE PUCK: Lightning goalie Ben Bishop was superb during last year’s run to the Stanley Cup final and is a Vezina Trophy candidate this season, ranking among the league’s best in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. Jimmy Howard has become Detroit’s No. 1 goalie again after getting beat out earlier in the season by Petr Mrazek. Mrazek started all seven games last year in the playoffs, shutting out the Lightning twice and giving up only one goal in Game 7 that Tampa Bay won 2-0. “It was probably one of our tougher series last year,” Bishop said. “They’re going to have a chip on their shoulder. They’re going to have that in the back of their minds … that little extra motivation.”
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Tyler Johnson scored six goals – two in three games – and had an assist in Tampa Bay’s four wins in the first round against Detroit last year. In the Red Wings’ three wins in the series, they didn’t let Johnson get a point. “I think the biggest thing is try to take away as much space as possible,” Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I thought we did a pretty good job overall, but there were times in games when we gave him too much room.”
DROUIN FACTOR: It’s unclear how much young Tampa Bay prospect Jonathan Drouin will play after spending most of the season in the minor leagues after requesting a trade and later serving a suspension for refusing to play for Syracuse of the AHL. He was a healthy scratch in 20 of 26 playoff games last year. The 2013 first-round draft pick scored in his first two games after being recalled last week.
STREAKING, NOT SATISFIED: Detroit extended its postseason streak to 25 this season, the longest active streak in North America’s four major sports leagues and a run that is tied for the third longest in NHL history. “There is a lot of pride in here,” Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “You don’t want to be a part of that team that loses it, so of course it was nice to get in. There was no hiding that, but at the same time there’s a chance for us to do some damage here.” The Red Wings, though, have been eliminated in the opening round in three of the past four years and haven’t made it past the second round since 2009 when they came within a win of repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
GOOD BUDDIES: Coach Jeff Blashill, who has the Red Wings in the playoffs in his first season behind the bench, is a close friend of Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “I’m really happy for him. … I just wish we weren’t playing each other until the (Stanley Cup) final,” Cooper said. “I know that’s unrealistic. I guess the bright side of it is one of us is going to advance.”
“No mixed emotions,” Blashill said. “I know for certain I want the bragging rights come the summer. It’ll be fun.’