EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- He buzzes around the ice like a flea in an opponent’s ear, racing from one end of the rink to the other, never seeming to back off or even slow down until he heads to the bench at the end of a shift.
Brad Richardson might be one of the most unsung members of the Los Angeles Kings, but he’s far from unnoticed.
As the Kings prepare for the Stanley Cup finals beginning next week against the winner of the New York Rangers-New Jersey Devils series, nearly every player has been part of a defining moment in these playoffs.
Some have been bigger than others. Richardson’s was huge.
After missing the first two games of the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks following an emergency appendectomy, he scored the tying goal in the third period of Game 5, allowing the Kings to eventually win in overtime and clinch the first-round series against the top-seeded team in the West.
Typically, his contributions as a fourth-line left wing fly much lower on the radar.
“He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s not afraid to go into dirty areas,” fourth-line center Colin Fraser said. “He’s not the guy putting guys into the third row, but he’s physical in the fact that he’s not afraid to be first on the puck.”
Richardson also brings an element of speed that’s more typical of a top-six forward. He combines that speed with the willingness to play rough, allowing him to quickly skate in on the forecheck and gain possession of the puck or disrupt the opponent’s clearing attempts.
Richardson said he’s willing to do anything to stay in the lineup.
“You’re always trying to improve and be at your best,” he said. “We have a lot of guys that can play, so you’re just trying to play well every time you get in there.”
Richardson has seen his playing time and role with the team fluctuate during his four years in L.A. He was a bottom-six forward for most of his first three seasons then was elevated to a top-line center role for the 2011 playoffs after a season-ending ankle injury to Anze Kopitar.
That line, with rookie Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds, turned out to be the most productive of the series.
With a Kopitar back this season, as well as the addition of Mike Richards and Fraser, the center position became extremely crowded, forcing Richardson to display his versatility as a winger.
Still, that wasn’t enough to keep him in the lineup on a consistent basis.
At one point in late February and into March, he was a healthy scratch in 14 of 19 games.
Richardson got another chance to show what he could do when Jeff Carter went down with a deep ankle bruise with five games left in the regular season. Richardson was reinserted on the top line with Kopitar and Dustin Brown and in his second game scored two goals in a 4-3 shootout loss in Minnesota.
Richardson appeared to have a tight hold on a fourth-line spot heading into the playoffs, but he had been bothered with stomach pains in the days leading up to the first-round series with the Canucks. His mother, a registered nurse who just happened to be visiting at the time, recommended he visit a doctor who discovered he needed an appendectomy.
By the time he was set to return, Richardson may have been the odd-man out again, but another spot opened up on the fourth line when Clifford suffered a concussion in Game 1 against the Canucks.
While Clifford was on the mend, Richardson took the opportunity to show what he could provide in a fourth-line role, and his goal against the Canucks in Game 5 was the type of contribution that usually keeps a player in the lineup.
Even when Fraser returned home to be with his then-ill 19-month-old son and missed Games 2 and 3 of the Western Conference finals, giving Clifford an opportunity to return to the lineup, Richardson remained on the fourth line when Fraser returned, leaving Clifford on the list of healthy scratches.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Richardson has one tangible that Clifford does not.
“Cliffy is probably the youngest player in our room, and experience is a big part of it,” Sutter said.
This is Richardson’s fifth trip to the postseason. The Kings lost in the first round the past two years, and he was twice swept in the second round while a member of the Colorado Avalanche from 2005-08.
He won't forget this experience, even when he's old and grey.
“It’s really nice to get this far, and get a chance to play for what we all dreamed about,” he said.