Hockey may be a religion in Canada's Maritime Provinces, but lobsters are a living. So you can understand Glen Richards's dilemma last week. His heart told him to travel to Calgary to watch his son, Tampa Bay center Brad Richards, battle the Flames for the Stanley Cup. But Glen's head told him to man his lobster boat in Murray Harbour, a face-off dot of a fishing village on the southeast tip of Prince Edward Island, where May and June is harvesting season. "I figure the lobsters will always be there," says Glen, who flew the 3,000 miles to take in the Lightning's 3-0 loss in Game 3 last Saturday. "A chance to go to the Stanley Cup finals doesn't come around too often."
At dawn on Monday, Richards p�re was back in Murray Harbour, dragging 100-pound traps out of the Atlantic. That night Brad helped Tampa Bay inch closer to hoisting the 35-pound Cup. His first-period power-play goal in Game 4 led to a 1-0 Lightning win that sent the series back to Florida tied at two games apiece. "Usually at this time of year I'm home eating lobster and watching the playoffs on TV," Brad said after Game 3. "It's nice to be in them this year."
With top-gear speed and a sonic slap shot, Richards, 24, has the skills to complement the Lightning's other top forwards, Hart Trophy candidate Martin St. Louis and the supremely gifted Vincent Lecavalier. But even though Richards scored a career-high 79 points in the regular season, his profile remained below sea level until the postseason. Heading into Game 5 on Thursday, he has 21 playoff points, tied with St. Louis for the team lead. Seven of Richards's ten playoff goals have been game-winners, surpassing the NHL record held by the Colorado Avalanche's Joe Sakic (1996) and the Dallas Stars' Joe Nieuwendyk ('99). Tampa Bay is 30-0-2 this season when Richards scores, including 8-0 this postseason. "He reminds me of Sakic, with the way he battles," says Lightning defenseman Nolan Pratt. "In this [locker] room he's certainly not overlooked."
Richards's reputation, or lack of one, wasn't enhanced by his flameout in last year's playoffs, when he failed to score in II games and Tampa Bay was eliminated in the second round. The weak performance underlined what Lightning coach John Tortorella had long said: The 6'1", 194-pound Richards needed more sand in his game. Last Dec. 23 Tortorella—who expects gritty play from everyone on his team—hauled Richards into his office between periods of a game in Boston and chewed him out for failing to block a shot in the defensive zone.
That same night Tortorella benched Lecavalier, and while the coach and the star engaged in a public spat in the ensuing weeks, Richards—who says he was "embarrassed" by his dressing-down—quietly remade his game. He dropped anchor in high-traffic areas in front of the net and began clawing through checks to gain and keep the puck. Twenty of his 26 goals came after Jan. 1. "Richie has the tools to make great plays," says Lightning associate coach Craig Ramsay. "He had to understand the price you have to pay to make them."
Richards potted the decisive goal in Tampa Bay's 4-1 victory in Game 2 of the finals when he crashed the net and swept a loose puck past the Flames' Miikka Kiprusoff. Later he tangled with Chris Clark in Kiprusoff's crease. If the Lightning wins the series, champagne isn't all that will fill the Cup when it visits Murray Harbour this summer. As Glen Richards mused on Saturday, "A nice big lobster would fit in there perfectly."