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Richards To Be Scratched In Game 4

With his team's season hanging in the balance down 3-0 to the Boston Bruins and heading into tonight's must-win Game Four at Madison Square Garden, Rangers head coach John Tortorella has decided to make one of the most difficult decisions of his coaching career. According to veteran center Brad Richards, Tortorella called Richards Thursday morning to inform the Ranger alternate captain that he will be scratched from the lineup and will not play this evening.

An emotional, yet composed, Richards confirmed that he would not play after being one of the last players off the ice after Thursday's morning skate at The Garden. Richards did not have a lot to say regarding the decision, and Tortorella had already spoken to the media earlier, so he was unavailable for comment.

"Nothing is over," said a solemn Richards, surrounded by his locker. "(I have to) work harder, and try my best so that this will never happen again."

When asked if it was tough not playing in an elimination game, Richards responded, "Yeah. It's all tough."

Richards, who has been skating on the fourth line since late in the first-round series with Washington, has scored just one goal for one point in ten post-season games, while managing 18 shots on goal. He played more than 22 minutes against the Capitals in Game One of the first-round quarterfinal series, but had dipped to a career playoff low 8:10 in Tuesday 2-1 Game Three loss to the Bruins here in the semifinals. Though shipped to the fourth line, Richards was still playing on the team's power play unit, which has suffered through an abysmal 2-for-38 performance in the post-season.

Last spring, Richards scored a string of big goals for the Rangers, recording 15 points in 20 games as the Rangers advanaced to the Eastern Conference Finals. In his career, Richards---the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner when he and Tortorella helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win their only Stanley Cup championship---has 28 goals, 50 assists, and 78 points in 93 post-season games.

During the truncated 2013 regular season, Richards struggled for long stretches, but rallied late in the year to finish with 11 goals and 34 points in 46 games. He had five of his goals and 11 of his points over the last six games of the regular season.

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Richards' absence from the lineup is just one of several possible changes for the Rangers in Game Four tonight. Anton Stralman, who was injured on a Milan Lucic hit during Game Three on Tuesday, did not practice Wednesday nor take part in the morning skate on Thursday, and will likely not play tonight. Veteran Roman Hamrlik was off the ice early this morning, making it seem as though he would get the nod over Matt Gilroy---and the still injured Marc Staal---to replace Stralman.

"For me, I haven’t played for a long time," explained Hamrlik, who last played on April 1st against Winnipeg. "I’ve been in the league for a long time, so I should know what to do and how to bring my best. Hopefully I just keep my feet moving and keep shifts short and don’t do any fancy stuff out there. It’s the playoffs. We know they’re going to be ready and we want to have a good start.”

Interestingly Hamrlik is the Rangers most-seasoned playoff performer, having appeared in 111 career post-season games. Last year with the Capitals facing elimination in Game 7 of the semifinals against the Rangers, Hamrlik scored Washington's lone goal in a 2-1 Blueshirts victory.

"We’re just focusing on one game, the game that’s tonight," offered Hamrlik. "We have to leave everything we’ve got on the ice tonight and see what’s going to happen the next day."

There is the chance that Ryane Clowe, who played in Game Four and Game Five vs. the Capitals, but who has missed the rest of the post-season due to injury could return to the Rangers lineup tonight. Clowe skated two days in a row and was off the ice early on Thursday with most of the regulars. Intriguingly, grinding forwards Kris Newbury and Micheal Haley also left the ice with the regulars this morning, while Chris Kreider and Arron Asham were the last two on ice at the morning skate---perhaps signaling more changes in the Blueshirts lineup this evening.

For Rangers fans looking for a silver lining tonight, the Rangers are 5-1 when facing playoff elimination in the last two post-seasons, including a pair of must-win victories in the opening round this spring against Washington.

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May 23 - 4:58pm
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