LOS ANGELES -- Brad Richards sensed a change was coming. It usually does when your team is trailing 3-0 in any series, let alone the Stanley Cup Final. The way he had been playing and feeling in the series, he probably could sense the change involved him.
So when New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault approached Richards before Game 4 on Wednesday to talk to him about the lineup and where he was going to play, you can imagine how unsurprised Richards was to learn that he was being bumped down to the fourth line.
He said his reaction to the news that he was being demoted was simply, "Go try to win a game, really. If you're down 3-0, you know, there's something that has to change sometimes. Just talk to the new linemates, go play."
Richards did just that.
He played with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett, received a series-low 13:20 in ice time, did not take a faceoff, did not score, but the Rangers won 2-1 to keep the series against the Los Angeles Kings going.
Richards was back on the fourth line at practice Thursday and likely will start there Friday in Game 5 at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"First of all, Brad's a team-first guy," Vigneault said. "I mean, as a coach, and especially at this time of the year when you don't get a lot of these opportunities, sometimes you've got to make decisions that might be a little tough to make on a personal aspect, but on a team aspect you have to. I just felt that certain guys were playing a little bit better than Brad. That's the way it is."
Asked to self-analyze his play in the series, Richards mentioned Game 2.
"Game 2 was rough," Richards said. "I don't know what happened. I just couldn't get out of my own way."
He still played a series-high 21:23 and had three shots on goal, but he couldn't bury a Grade-A chance 20 seconds after Kings forward Marian Gaborik tied the game in the third period. Richards still wonders if he scores there whether everything is different for him and the Rangers.
"You probably have a whole different feeling," Richards said. "When you get down 3-0, you fight it a bit. That's the way it goes. But in Game 2, I had a chance to maybe bury one in the third that probably changes the whole mentality of the team and you, coming back 1-1. But it didn't.
"If other guys are figuring out a way to get it done, right now it's about that."
Richards has been in this situation before; just last year, in fact.
Former Rangers coach John Tortorella demoted him to the fourth line in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Bruins. Tortorella kept him there for Game 3, but scratched him for the final two games of the series.
Tortorella said he scratched Richards because his skillset doesn't make him a good fourth-line player, and the Rangers' other three centers -- Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard and Brian Boyle -- were playing better.
That's basically what Vigneault is saying this time, only sub-in Dominic Moore for Boyle, who still took all the fourth-line faceoffs in Game 4 despite the fact that Richards was 50 percent in the first three games (18-for-36).
"I haven't been where I need to be this series, so my ice time has been lower," Richards said. "We're trying to win games, to get to a chance to win a Cup, so..."
However, Vigneault hasn't taken Richards off the power play; he remains on the point of the first unit. Richards played 3:58 on the power play in Game 4. He played 8:47 on the power play in Game 3, 91 seconds more than he played at even strength.
"It flips very quickly, for sure," Richards said. "If you can help out, score a goal, a big play -- right now it might be some other simple play you have to get done while you're out there. That's it. [I] had some good looks last couple games -- just for some reason they're not going in. So we just keep trying."