This Day in History: “The Shift”

mikerichardsTen days after the improbable comeback over the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, arguably the most memorable individual performance in Philadelphia Flyers history took place.

With the Flyers leading the Montreal Canadians 3-1 in the series and trailing 1-0 early in the opening period, then-Philadelphia captain Mike Richards epitomized everything a hockey player stands for: toughness, skill and determination.

All of this occurred in less than 30 seconds:

On the penalty kill, the Flyers couldn’t afford to go down 2-0 with a golden opportunity to end the series on home ice. With around 1:15 on the powerplay, Marc Andre-Bergeron received the puck at the top of the point.  By the time he lifted his head up to send it back down, he was met with Richards’ left forearm before being lifted off the ice and toppling onto his back.

Richards’ crushing blow on Bergeron allowed Claude Giroux to advance the puck on a 3-on-1 fastbreak. The future captain passed it to Richards who proceeded to hit the trailing defenseman, Braydon Coburn. His shot was deflected after a big save by Jaroslav Halak that deflected right back out to give Montreal a rush of their own.

Seconds after delivering a beautiful pass, Richards began hunting down Bergeron, who was looking to make a play after being barreled over by the Flyers captain. Right before he was about to cross the Flyers’ blue line, Richards’ stick lift and then chop slowed the puck carrier down just enough for Coburn to deliver yet another massive hit on Bergeron.

With the puck in the corner of the Flyers’ zone, Giroux was able to dig the puck out and then flip it out to center ice where a streaking Richards entered a foot race with Roman Hamrlik for the loose puck.

The two were neck-and-neck as the puck crossed into Montreal’s zone. With the two even, Halak felt it necessary to take matters into his own hands. The goaltender bolted out of his net in anticipation of winning the race to the puck.

The only way Halak would lose that race is if Richards somehow dove headfirst…

And that’s exactly what No. 18 did.

Evenly positioned with Hamrlik and knowing Halak had a beat on him, Richards did his best Pete Rose impersonation and dove head-on as he swung at the puck with his outstretched stick. In the process, Richards upended Hamrlik, taking his feet out from under him, while Halak decided to get in on the action and dive straight into the pile for the puck.

It was a three-car crash that saw Richards come out unscathed.

Appearing as if he just got himself together, Richards hopped back up to his feet as Hamrlik and Halak lay helplessly on the ice staring back at a gaping empty net behind them.

Richards gained possession of the puck just outside of the goalie-less crease with nothing in his way. With his back turned to the red line and the fans banging on the glass, the forward used his backhand to slide the puck into the empty net, tying the game at 1 and sending the arena into elation.

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From that point on, Philadelphia would go on score two more unanswered goals before winning the game, 4-2, and advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Richards’ goal was hardly the highlight. It was simply icing on the cake. His toughness is what started the play, his skill was spotlighted on the backcheck, and his determination was put front-and-center as he went belly-first into two opposing players simply to reach the puck.

“The Shift” will forever live on in Flyers’ lore.

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