Mike Richards and his line haven't shown up on the score sheet during the Stanley Cup Finals. That doesn't mean the Flyers' captain hasn't shown up.
Richards has played with the same intensity that helped carry the Flyers through the first three rounds of the playoffs. Instead of ending in goals, though, his best efforts in this series have gone wide of the net, been mishandled by teammates, or been nullified by the Blackhawks in some way.
In Game 5 the other night, Richards hustled after the puck into the Chicago zone on a play very much like his unforgettable goal against Montreal. This time, the goalie stayed back and let the puck come to him instead of attacking and creating a collision. This time, Richards worked just as hard and the result just wasn't there.
If he is going to accept the Cup Friday night, Richards is going to have to produce more than hustle. He and his linemates are going to have to connect on some of the chances that have eluded them so far.
"I don't feel I need to press for goals," Richards said. "I think they're going to come naturally if I keep working hard and keep going to the net. You're bearing down as much as you can without squeezing the stick. Their goaltender has made some saves that's one bounce away from kind of breaking the floodgates open, hopefully. You just keep going at it."
Unless coach Peter Laviolette is being especially sneaky, it appears he will leave his lines pretty much alone for this latest elimination game. That is in contrast to Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who scattered his unproductive top line among three lines Sunday. The message here is simple enough.
"We're comfortable with our lineup," Laviolette said. "I can't really comment on theirs."
The Flyers are going to win this thing playing the way that got them here, or they are going to go down fighting. That is how it shapes up with the Stanley Cup in the arena Wednesday night.
The Flyers have played this opponent tough in a couple of losses and beaten the Hawks twice at home. They have averaged nearly four goals per game.
"We can score eight goals a game if we played our game for 60 minutes," Carter said, showing no sign of diminished confidence. "We have guys that can put the puck in the net. I think we came out last game and they came out fired up and we kind of sat back and they pretty much skated all over us. They outhit us, outworked us."
That top line is a pure distillation of Flyers hockey. The other top players for the team in this postseason - Pronger and Briere, Leighton and Leino - are all additions from other organizations. Gagne was the best Flyers prospect of his time, while Richards and Carter are the Butch and Sundance of the team's latest attempt to build a championship team.
So they will get a chance to skate together and keep the Cup in its case, a chance to extend this thing to an anything-can-happen Game 7.
"We know that we could be the difference in the game," Gagne said. "So our line has to be very big for our team tomorrow."
It won't be easy. The Blackhawks have focused on shutting the Richards line down just as Laviolette deployed Chris Pronger on Chicago's top line. But there's more than that. Richards is not the biggest guy in the world. The way he has thrown his body around - over a long season, an intense Olympic tournament, and now two months of playoffs - he is bound to wear down at some point. Carter and Gagne have one healthy foot between them.
They are not making excuses or asking for any breaks, though. They know what is at stake in Game 6 and what a great opportunity a Game 7 would be. There are 120 minutes of hockey (plus the possibility of a little overtime) between them and the one thing they've played all their lives for.
"We're in the Stanley Cup Final," Gagne said. "Game 6. You have to feel good about yourself. But at the same time tomorrow is going to be the biggest game that personally I'm going to have to play. I'm going to be ready for that. It doesn't matter what happened . . . if our line didn't produce like we wanted to. We have a chance to make that all behind us if we have a big game. I'm sure our line is going to be ready. Me, Richie and Cartsy - [we're] going to be ready to play the biggest game of our life."
They have broken bones and endured surgeries to play in it. They have fought and bled and overcome impossible odds. For these Flyers, the only thing at stake in Game 6 is everything.