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Richards stars, but don't tell him

MIKE RICHARDS has this way of trying to deflect attention away from the things he does on the ice. At times, he almost appears to be blushing. He looks away, shifts on his feet, and has this kind of grin that only can be described as aw, shucks.

MIKE RICHARDS has this way of trying to deflect attention away from the things he does on the ice.

At times, he almost appears to be blushing. He looks away, shifts on his feet, and has this kind of grin that only can be described as aw, shucks.

"I don't like the spotlight," the 22-year-old center said last night. "I just try to go about my business and just play hockey. That's what I like to do.

"I don't like being in the newspaper or anything."

Good luck with that.

There hasn't been a game this season in which Richards hasn't done something that has factored in the outcome. He leads the Flyers in scoring and goals; more to the point, he flat-out leads his team.

Last night he scored his third shorthanded goal of the season, putting him in a three-way tie for the league lead. Coming early in the third period, it was the game-winner in the Flyers' 3-2 win over the New York Islanders. Scottie Upshall had two goals as the Flyers improved to 6-0 at home, with the Rangers visiting Thursday.

It's not as though Richards is carrying the Flyers. He's not. This year's team is talented, plays disciplined defensively and has good goaltending.

It gets scoring from four lines and, while it can be flat in games, particularly in starts, it can consistently count on Richards for a big play, a big hit, an energy-inspiring fight, a power-play goal or chance, or a key penalty kill and even a shorthanded goal.

He's the only active player in the league with two career five-on-three shorthanded goals.

But don't ask him to talk about it. He really doesn't like it.

John Stevens knows that. Stevens has been coaching him since Richards came to the Flyers organization out of juniors and played for Stevens in the AHL.

Richards joined the Phantoms during their Calder Cup run in 2005, after the conclusion of his junior season. After missing the Phantoms' first round, he came in and started contributing. He had an off game, however, turning a puck over in a game the Phantoms lost. Richards accepted the goat role, but then came back strong the next night.

"He really dominated the game,'' Stevens said. "We tried to give him all the credit and he was the first one to deflect it and praise his teammates. He's a very humble individual, he's got great team values and it's one of the reasons he's a permanent assistant captain on our hockey team."

And what a year he is having, leading the Flyers in points with 20 and goals with 10. On the power play, he's a threat on the point; on the penalty kill, he's a threat, period.

Last night, Richards' heroics were not needed right away. Everything Stevens wants from his team, he got in the first period as the Flyers played disciplined and forechecked ferociously.

The first goal was the result of a forced play behind the Islanders' net. Jeff Carter got in on a puck along the wall and batted it free. Ruslan Fedotenko looked to have possession at the side of the net but lost it in front of Upshall, who put it away, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead 10:38 into the game.

"Our line has been playing great," Upshall said. "Carter did a great job by himself behind the net to knock the puck out front. I was fortunate on the opportunity to get a good shot off and it went in."

The Flyers almost got a second goal when Richards jumped out of the penalty box and got a long pass, sending him in alone on Rick DiPietro. But Richards looked like he mishandled his move at the last second and DiPietro stopped him.

The Islanders tied the game early in the second period on a goal by Mike Sillinger, who found an opening over Marty Biron's shoulder.

But Upshall's second goal 11:43 into the period got that back. Carter sent a long pass up to Upshall, who was battling in center ice. The puck snuck through and so did Upshall, who did not mishandle his move, going from his forehand to his backhand and beating DiPietro.

The seesaw continued until the end of the period. Miroslav Satan took a high shot that bounced off Biron's shoulder and dropped behind him. It fell under his skate, but before the whistle blew Chris Simon poked it free and in, making it 2-2, 18:17 into the period.

Daniel Briere was called for a hook early in the third, putting the Flyers down a man. That's when Richards struck. Taking a pass from R.J. Umberger, Richards skated into the zone and took a shot that DiPietro stopped. Richards, in his never-give-up style, corralled the rebound and slipped it in 3:24 into the third for the winner.

It was his third game-winner of the season.

Last season, Richards scored 10 goals all season, in 59 games.

"It's like he went to scoring school or something this summer," said winger Mike Knuble. "He's changed the perception of the kind of player he is. He came into the league as a checker and was going to be a leader and stuff. It's not even just his scoring. It's the opportunities he gets every night.

"He gets a two-on-one every night. I think he had three [last night]. We were talking about it. The opportunities are coming and he's doing things right to get the opportunities.

"But he's very humble. He's a thinking type of player and he shows a lot of maturity on the ice and with his mannerisms off the ice as well." *