Struggling Rangers center Brad Richards was a healthy scratch Thursday night when New York stayed alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Bruins.
Richards, a star player earning $12 million this season, stayed on the ice with the extras Thursday during the morning skate. He then confirmed that Rangers coach John Tortorella had called to tell him he would be sitting out.
”He’s playing seven or eight minutes, and it’s not good for him,” Tortorella said. ”I also feel some other guys have played better, so that’s where he is right now in our lineup.”
New York rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits before Chris Kreider scored the winning goal in overtime to force Game 5 in Boston on Saturday.
Kris Newbury and Micheal Haley replaced Richards and fellow fourth-line forward Arron Asham, who also sat out for the first time in the series that Boston now leads 3-1.
”I don’t know if surprised is the right word for it,” Richards said. ”I’m disappointed.”
Haley, who hadn’t played since March 19, made his NHL postseason debut. Newbury was in the lineup for New York’s playoff opener against Washington in the first round, but was scratched for the next nine games.
Newbury played six games during the regular season, and Haley dressed for nine.
Defenseman Anton Stralman, who was injured in the second period of Tuesday night’s loss, was also out of the Game 4 lineup. Veteran Roman Hamrlik, who hadn’t played since April 1 – a 23-game span – replaced him.
Boston used the same lineup from Game 3.
The 33-year-old Richards, an alternate captain who has seven years left on the nine-year, $60 million deal he signed in July 2011, has been largely ineffective in 10 playoff games. He has one goal and no assists and has a minus-3 rating.
”Don’t put words in my mouth, because I’m not blaming Brad, because he is a hell of a hockey player that’s having a hell of a time,” Tortorella said. ”I need to make decisions about what I feel is right for our team to win tonight’s game. That’s why I made that decision.”
Richards had already been dropped to the fourth line and had his ice time cut. Richards’ inability to get New York’s woeful power play going left him as an odd-man out.
He said being on the fourth line made it difficult for him to be effective.
”It doesn’t work for him,” Tortorella said of Richards. ”I’m not playing him the proper way, but I can’t put him in a situation on the other lines because I think the other lines stepped up.
”I am looking to get some sort of identity on that fourth line, and that’s where Brad comes out and I go with these guys. We got some fresh legs and enthusiasm.”
Richards, in his 12th NHL season, had only 10 shifts and a career playoff-low 8:10 of ice time Tuesday in New York’s 2-1 loss that put the Rangers on the brink of elimination.
Richards is a prime candidate to have his contract bought out after this season. After this year’s lockout, each team was given the option of two amnesty buyouts that could be used to terminate contracts before next season or the 2014-15 season.
The buyouts will cost two-thirds of the remaining amount on a deal – paid evenly over twice its remaining length – and will count against the players’ overall share in revenues, but not the individual team’s salary cap. A buyout for Richards would cost the Rangers $24 million over 14 years.
”Nothing’s over,” Richards said. ”Work harder and try my best to never let it happen again.”
Richards, who had 11 goals and 23 assists in 46 games during the regular season, was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP when he and the Tampa Bay Lightning captured the Stanley Cup under Tortorella in 2004.
”This is a guy that I’ve grown up with, a guy that I love as a person and a player,” Tortorella said, ”but I have to make that decision regarding (the benching). It’s not about blaming that guy.”