NEW YORK -- New York Rangers coach John Tortorella started by saying he felt it was important to spend a few minutes talking about why he scratched center Brad Richards for Game 4 against the Boston Bruins on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Two minutes and 359 spoken words later, Tortorella had made his point.
Tortorella said Richards, who earned a pro-rated $12 million this season according to CapGeek.com, was scratched for the Rangers' must-win Game 4 against the Bruins because he wanted a new look for his fourth line and didn't feel Richards was effective in that role, which he had been playing in since Game 6 against the Washington Capitals.
Forward Arron Asham also was scratched. Kris Newbury and Micheal Haley played and received a combined 15:59 of ice time. Chris Kreider, who was playing left wing on the fourth line, was bumped up to a second-line role and scored in overtime to give the Rangers a 4-3 win, keeping them alive in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
"By no means is this a situation when I take him out that I'm blaming him," Tortorella said of Richards, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2004 when Tortorella coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup. "I'm playing Brad on the fourth line, he's playing seven or eight minutes, it's not good for him. It doesn't work playing Brad Richards that way, but I also feel some other guys have played better so that's where he is right now in our lineup."
Richards has one goal and is a minus-3 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He played a postseason-low 8:10 in Game 3.
"It just doesn't work when 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 have stepped up," Tortorella said. "So I look at the fourth line, I'm looking just to get just some sort of life, some sort of identity on that fourth line, and that's where Brad comes out and I let these guys in. You get some fresh legs, you get some enthusiasm."
Tortorella knows his critics will go after him, if they haven't already, for scratching a player who is signed for seven more seasons and owed $36 million -- but the coach doesn't care."I'm sure people will pick it apart, but I want to make sure you know Brad Richards is a hell of a hockey player," Tortorella said. "He has had struggles. He's had struggles here. It continues. Me putting him in that role does not help him. So I'd rather have him out and identify how we're going to run our fourth line.
"So, none of you, don't put words in my mouth -- it's not blaming Brad Richards," Tortorella continued. "I've already heard enough of that [stuff] already as far as this is concerned. He's a hell of a hockey player that's having a hell of a time. I need to make decisions for what I feel is right for the team to win tonight's game, and that's why I made that decision."
Tortorella would not say if Richards will be back in the lineup for Game 5 in Boston on Saturday (5:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS). The Bruins lead the best-of-7 series 3-1.
"This is a Conn Smythe winner, a guy I've grown up with, a guy that I love as a person and a player, but I have to make that decision regarding this," Tortorella said. "It's not about blaming that guy and I don't want anybody to pile on. This is my decision and I make it for the hockey club."
Rangers center Brian Boyle said he sympathizes with Richards because Boyle was a healthy scratch a couple of times during the regular season.
"He's a great teammate," Boyle said of Richards. "He's not going to sulk. He's not going to do anything like that. He's going to try to come back and make a difference for us. He's obviously done some unbelievable things in the short time he's been here.
"We've all gone through it at some point and it [stinks], but you've still gotta get ready to play."
Center Derek Stepan also said he expects Richards to bounce back if he's given another opportunity.
"Brad, since he's been here, has helped me out a ton," Stepan said. "He's continued to be a leader for us and he's going to continue to do that for us. Right now, I'm sure he's getting himself mentally prepared to start working at it and get back to it. He will be back and he's a big part of our team."