The road traveled by Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis to arrive back in the playoffs together has encompassed seven years, three cities, two trades and one free agent contract.
Once again Richards and St. Louis, Stanley Cup champions in 2004 with Tampa Bay, find themselves competing for the Cup as teammates.
“We’re in a playoff again,” Richards said Monday after practice for Tuesday’s Game 6 of the Metropolitan Division semifinals. “[It] is hard to believe that it’s been [since 2007] the last time we were in the playoffs together.”
It’s been 2,564 days, to be exact, since the Lightning were eliminated from the 2007 postseason.
Seven years later, after Richards had moved on to Dallas, and signed a free agent deal in 2011, the Rangers found themselves locked in a contract dispute with Ryan Callahan. With the two sides at an impasse, Callahan was traded to Tampa Bay for St. Louis — reuniting him with Richards.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” Richards said of the deadline-day blockbuster. “Losing [Callahan, he] became a good friend. That’s a bittersweet day. But if I had to replace [Callahan] with anybody, obviously getting one of your best friends and a teammate you [won with] — knowing how good a hockey player he is — you don’t celebrate that but you can move on a little easier.”
St. Louis struggled in the regular season, scoring only once, but he’s broken out in the playoffs.
“I can sit here and sound like a genius and tell you, ‘Yeah, I knew this was going to happen,’” Richards said of St. Louis, who has six points (two goals, four assists) in five games this postseason. “I never really thought it wouldn’t happen. When you hear some of the stuff around, 'Can he do this?’ I don’t even know what was being said, but if you know him long enough — even if you don’t know him, just watch hockey the last five years — you knew it was going to happen.”
Richards is the team's second-leading scorer in the postseason with five points (two goals and three assists).
“I wasn’t worried about him at all. You feel for him when he’s going through it and you want him to adjust as quick as possible,” Richards said. “When you're not him it’s easy to sit back and say, ‘You’re going to be fine. It’ll all feel normal.’ When you're him, those days go by and they feel like they’re going by forever. If you ask him, he probably feels like a [totally] different person than he did three weeks ago.
"He brings a lot of people [with him] when he's on the ice, he brings people along. That’s not just what he brings on the ice as far as making plays, that’s what he brings as a player and a person. There’s a reason he wins the scoring race at 38, because he works. He plays the right way. It’s good to have that. It’s contagious for people on the ice with him, and teammates watching how he is.”
For Richards, the feeling of playing with St. Louis in the playoffs is the same as it ever was.
“It feels normal,” Richards said. “It’s fun to be back talking hockey and talking about the playoffs and try to figure out how to win.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.