When Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were shipped out of Philadelphia in separate trades just an hour apart last June, realization swiftly hit the close friends that they would not get a chance to win a championship together.
At the time, they had no idea they would eventually be reunited on the opposite coast, much less have a chance to lift the Stanley Cup as teammates.
Given a rare second chance with the Los Angeles Kings, Richards and Carter plan to make the most of it.
"We didn't expect this. We were both excited. Jeff was extremely excited to come to L.A. You know, the rest is obviously history," Richards said during Tuesday's media session. "We've had fun together. We've always envisioned, I think, winning together. Not too many people get that second opportunity, but we definitely have that now and we have to take advantage of it."
The two Canadians have been linked together as soon as their professional careers began. The Flyers grabbed Carter 11th overall in the 2003 draft and then 13 picks later they selected another center in Richards. In 2005, the two won the Calder Cup as champions of the American Hockey League for the Philadelphia Phantoms and the duo then cracked the Flyers' big-league roster together the following season.
All-Star appearances, a 40-goal campaign and a trip to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals (lost to Chicago) followed for the companions, but it all came to an end on June 23. That's when the Flyers, needing to make cap room to improve their goaltending position, dealt Richards to the Kings for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a 2012 second-round draft pick. Less than an hour later, Carter was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek and the eighth overall pick of the 2011 draft.
The trades certainly sent a shockwave through Philadelphia and left both Carter and Richards stunned. After all, Richards was the Flyers' captain and Carter was arguably their best pure scorer. The two had come so close to winning it all the previous season and were now headed in different directions.
"It took a little bit, I think just the shock of being traded, going to a team that you don't really know too many people and having to get to learn them not only on the ice, but off the ice," Richards said. "It was frustrating. It was something I've never had to deal with before. It was new to me and I don't handle change too well.
"So I think that was an adjustment, but once I got to L.A., kind of everything fell into place. Tried to build chemistry on the ice. I think everyone did an awesome job in welcoming me and making me feel comfortable."
But while Richards was trying to fit in under the radar in a less hockey- obsessed city, Carter was struggling with his move to Columbus. It took him days to address the deal, leading to speculation that he didn't want to play for the Blue Jackets. He eventually said all the right things, but as his new team struggled and the forward himself dealt with injury, it was obvious that the Carter-Jackets marriage was not going to last.
Then came another unexpected twist for the bonded pals; Carter getting dealt to the Kings in late February for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick. The move made sense in not just reuniting the former teammates as the Kings also were struggling to score goals, something that happened to be Carter's specialty.
Though Carter had just six goals in 16 regular-season games with the Kings, the club went 13-5-3 after the trade and averaged just over three goals per game to secure the Western Conference's eighth seed. Then came their incredible run through the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, the seconded-seeded St. Louis Blues and the West's third seed, the Phoenix Coyotes, to set up the Stanley Cup Finals with the New Jersey Devils.
"It's been a little crazy in the last year or so with all the changes. But it's exciting anytime you can get to the Finals no matter who you are with or what the circumstances are. It's definitely a thrill," Carter said on Tuesday.
Getting reunited with former teammates Richards, Simon Gagne and assistant head coach John Stevens, who coached both Richards and Carter with the Phantoms and Flyers, certainly helped the forward out as well.
"It was probably as easy as it could have been," said Carter of the move to the Kings.
Richards said that Carter is currently living with him and that they are enjoying their time in Los Angeles. That could raise some flags given the rumors that it was their off-the-ice partying that led to the Flyers trading away their two cornerstones, but the two have been all business in the postseason.
After logging only 18 goals and 44 points in 74 games in the regular season, Richards has four goals and 11 points in 14 postseason contests. Carter, meanwhile, has followed up his injury-plagued 21-goal campaign with nine points in the 14 contests. That includes a hat trick in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals versus the Coyotes.
Richard, who twice reached the 30-goal mark with Philadelphia, said he isn't concerned with his numbers as long as it is benefiting the team.
"Everyone knows that they have to sacrifice a little bit if they want to play on our team," Richards said. "We're a defense-first team. We obviously have a great goaltender and defense. It's nice to have 80 points and 40 goals, whatever people score.
"At the same time, we're in the situation because of the way we play, the style that we play."
And it is a situation that the two should thrive in. While with Philadelphia, Richards had the weight of a championship-starved city on his shoulders as well as some intense media coverage that he never seemed comfortable with. Now, he doesn't have a letter other than the ones that make up his last name on his sweater and he can let gritty Kings captain Dustin Brown be the voice of the club.
Carter, meanwhile, was counted on to produce goal after goal, but seemed to disappear for stretches with the Flyers. That has certainly been the case at times with the Kings, too, but he is more of a secondary option now thanks to Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.
Don't forget that the two also are playing in front of a world-class goaltender in Jonathan Quick, something they lacked in Philadelphia.
Now, Richards and Carter could very well win the championship they seemed destined to capture together back east.
Isn't that what second chances are for?