Originally posted on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 10/16/11

By David Strehle
NHL Hot Stove Managing Editor

When San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton scored at 2:22 of overtime in Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Los Angeles Kings, the last thing that probably went through Wayne Simmonds’ mind at the time was that he had played his last game as a King.

Philadelphia fans show their support for Richards - as a Flyer - during warm ups. (AP Photo / Tom Mihalek)

Two weeks after the Sharks disposed of the Kings, Philadelphia found itself on the ropes, trailing the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  For the second consecutive season, the Flyers were down to their last gasp against Boston.  The previous May, they had accomplished what was thought to be impossible, becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to come back from the dead and win the next four contests to move on to the next round.  But this time was different.  Much different.  On May 6, Boston blew the Flyers out of the playoffs with a four-goal third period en route to a 5-1 victory, on their way to an eventual Stanley Cup championship.

Little did Philly captain Mike Richards know that he had played his final game wearing the “C” for the Orange-and-Black.

But it would end up being the case for both players.  Less than two months later, Simmonds and Richards each got the news that they had been traded – for each other.  Richards was heading to the City of Angels in exchange for forwards Simmonds and Brayden Schenn and a draft pick.

Saturday night the Kings traveled East to Philadelphia, marking the first time the two played against their former clubs.  Richards returned to play at Wells Fargo Center for the first time since tasting defeat on May 2, a bitter 3-2 overtime loss to the Bruins.  That would end up being a pivotal contest in the series, one in which the Flyers fired 48 shots in Tim Thomas’ direction.  Richards had 10 shots himself that night, going scoreless and finishing the evening a -2.

Saturday night, both players got their first taste of playing against their former teammates, as the Kings traveled to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers.  It was a choppy game, one in which didn’t have much flow because of 15 power plays handed out between the two clubs.

There was a pretty huge ovation for Richards when he hit the ice for warm ups as the crowd showed their appreciation for the six seasons he spent in the City of Brotherly Love.

“I might have been a little nervous or something, but it is what it is,” Richards said after the game.  ”I got on the ice and felt comfortable after that.”

But the warm and fuzzy reception didn’t last for too long.  Each time Richards touched the puck during the game, he was roundly booed.

“I think their first reaction when he came out on the ice for warm-ups you heard a little bit of a loud cheer and you don’t usually here that during warm-ups,” said Flyers defenseman Matt Carle, who scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.  ”But once the game started, the fans were on him just like any other opponent.”

Kings coach Terry Murray, also a former-Flyer, felt it was a positive to have so many people in the Los Angeles organization who played in Philly at some point during their careers.  He spoke with Richards before the game.  ”You know with Hexy (Ron Hextall), John Stevens, myself, (Simon) Gagne, and (Justin) Williams, it’s important to spend some time talking with people.  Richie and I talked a couple of times about this game and there is no doubt that when you have not been traded ever, and you’ve been such an important player in an organization for quite a few years, it’s emotionally very difficult.  I felt he dealt with it very well and the people around him helped him get through it.”

“I think from a media standpoint everyone tries to blow things up a little bit more than it is, and for me it was just another game,” Richards explained how he was able to simplify things in his mind.  ”I’ve been booed everywhere, I’ve been cheered in a couple places. You just go out there and play.  Once the puck is dropped, I think the easiest thing to do is just go out and play hockey.”

Another ex-Flyer who played a large part in the game’s outcome was Justin Williams, who scored Los Angeles’ first two goals.  He said it was an extra-special win for the Kings.  ”We wanted to win this for a lot of reasons,” said the 30-year-old winger.  ”Obviously, Mike being the top of the list.  I thought he got a warm reception early, then got booed the rest of the game.”

Having spent three and a half seasons in Philadelphia in the early-2000′s, Williams knows the thought process of Flyers fans.  ”That’s Philly, if you’re not on their team they are going to boo you,” he said after the game.  ”I know he appreciated the response initially, and I know he’s happy to get that first assist on the game-winning goal.”

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said he expected the warm reception for Richards.  ”He spent six years here and was the face of the franchise,” said the successor to Richards as team captain.  ”So whenever you have a guy like that and get rid of him and he comes back to the team there’s bound to be some sort of extra buzz in the air.  The crowd’s happy to get another chance to see him, even if it’s with another team, and I think the fans showed their appreciation, and then got over it quickly.

Richards did have a say in the final outcome.  After his hooking penalty midway through the third period led to Carle’s game-tying power play marker, he made up for it in a big way in overtime.  His perfect pass to Jack Johnson at the left faceoff circle gave the Kings defenseman a good portion of the net with which to shoot, and Johnson made no mistake.

The primary assist on the power play game-winner, against his former club when he knew he was under the microscope.  Not a bad nights work.

Simmonds lines up for a faceoff with Kings captain Dustin Brown. (Photo credit: Len Redkoles / NHLI, via Getty Images)

Simmonds spent his first three NHL season in L.A.,

“I thought Wayne was good,” said Peter Laviolette in his post-game press conference.  He then went on to assess what Simmonds brings to his squad.  ”What impresses me about him is his speed.  He’s got that straight away speed, he could take that puck into the zone and he’s talented enough to make plays.  It’s his straight away speed that is most impressive, but he’s been a terrific fit since he’s been here.  He’s a power forward, he’s physical.”

In the third period, Richards drilled Jakub Voracek with a huge check, and Simmonds had words with the man in which he traded places.  “He threw a big hit and I kind of circled around and realized it was him, and I went up to him and said something,” said the Flyers forward.  ”I’m not sure I can repeat it.  I gave him a little jab with my stick and then everyone came in…”

When asked if he was surprised at the voracious booing that Richards drew, Simmonds said he is learning about the Philadelphia fans loyalty to the home team.  ”I haven’t played here too long but I notice the fan will jump on you quick, especially when you’re wearing a visiting jersey.  They don’t really care who you are.”

The game had been marked on the calendar by so many for so long, but Simmonds is just happy it has now passed.   “I’m happy its done and over with,” he said.  ”I would have rather had the two points, I’m obviously not happy about that (only getting the one point for the overtime loss).  But at the same time, we can move on a focus on our next couple games.”

Simmonds was asked if there was any moment during the game when it hit him hard that he was playing against his former teammates.

“I’m a Flyer now,” he stated.  ”I bleed orange.  That’s how I think about it.”

If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle


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