ON THE SURFACE, the comparison seems valid.

Rick MacLeish was an anchor on the Flyers' two Stanley Cup title teams, often overlooked as other, more loquacious teammates shined and accepted the spotlight.

Sort of like Simon Gagne.

"No," said MacLeish. "I don't think so. He's a winger. I was a centerman. I'm in the play more than he is."

The more logical comparison becomes obvious, then.

"It'd be more like [Mike] Richards, I think," MacLeish said.

Yes, it would. Understated, productive, conscientious of what happens on either end of the rink - the pair share plenty of characteristics.

Right?

"Yeah, I think so. Yes."

MacLeish loves the way Richards plays, and, you can tell, how Richards carries himself. He is selfless, ferocious, tenacious, tireless, focused and completely unconcerned with getting credit for it.

So, Richards generally gets less credit for it than do other top centers.

He gets tons of credit from MacLeish, and, said MacLeish, for anyone who knows hockey, it should be obvious why.

"Just in your play. Day in and day out. It's how you play," MacLeish said. "You're defensive. You're offensive. He's both. He's a good hockey player."

MacLeish always saw Richards' potential for completeness, but he watched it explode after Richards got the "A" on his sweater before the 2007-08 season.

"It came when they gave him seniority on the team. When they made him captain - really, assistant captain," MacLeish said. "He needs that. He's a team player. He needs to be pushed, you know what I'm saying? He knows what he has to do, day in and day out. And he does it."

He's never had to do it this late in a season. Richards, in his fifth season, is 25, and is 1 year behind MacLeish's pace. MacLeish played for the Cup at 24 in his fourth season.

Should Richards conserve energy? Should he somehow focus more?

"I don't think anything has to do with fatigue," MacLeish said. "The playoffs are a completely different season. Just keep on plugging like he is now and everything will fall into place."

More easily than most would figure, MacLeish contended. The Flyers might be a seventh seed, and they might field fewer stars than Chicago, but MacLeish sees the matchup through a pragmatic lens.

"They've got a good shot at beating Chicago. They're underdogs - though I can't see that. The Eastern division's a lot stronger than the Western division," MacLeish said. "I think they'll surprise a lot of people."

Which, of course, would mean his counterpart would keep surprising people, too.