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Rangers will turn to Hamrlik for injured Stralman

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers defenseman Roman Hamrlik has been practicing in the morning and watching games at night for the past seven-and-a-half weeks. Hamrlik better have been working hard and watching closely because he is expected be smack dab in the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

Hamrlik likely will replace injured defenseman Anton Stralman in the Rangers lineup for their must-win Game 4 against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN, RDS). Stralman was injured late in the second period in Game 3 Tuesday, when Bruins forward Milan Lucic crunched him into the end boards in the defensive zone.

Boston leads the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Semifinal series 3-0.

"I've been watching the games from upstairs and that's a different view," Hamrlik said after the morning skate Thursday. "During the game you see lots of mistakes, but when you're on the ice or on the bench, it's much faster and quicker. Your brain has to [react] really quickly about what you're going to do. For me, I just have to read the play and use my stick, do what I do the best, make the first pass and play good defense."

Hamrlik last played April 1, when he took five shifts totaling 4:30 of ice time in a 4-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets. He admitted that coming back into the lineup after being out for so long can be difficult.

"I've been there before," Hamrlik said. "Last year in Washington I didn't play a few games and I came back. It takes a little while to get back, but I think I had some pretty good skating with our coaching staff, so I just have to keep it short and simple out there."

Hamrlik played 16 games during the regular season, including 12 with the Rangers after they claimed him off waivers from the Washington Capitals. He hasn't played since the Rangers acquired John Moore from the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 3 as part of the Marian Gaborik trade.

However, Hamrlik has been in the NHL since 1992, when Moore was 2 years old, and has played in 111 postseason games in addition to 1,395 regular-season games. He was in the lineup for all of Washington's 14 playoff games last season.

"It's not easy to step in now sitting out for a while, but he definitely has the experience, knows what it's all about, so I think he can control his nerves," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "That will definitely help him coming into this. We're going to need everybody to play their best [in Game 4] to beat this team."

Moore echoed Lundqvist's thoughts on Hamrlik's experience being a big factor in allowing the rest of the blue line to feel comfortable even though Stralman is out.

"Even though he hasn't been in the games here, he's definitely been a voice in this locker room in terms of what we're going through with this experience," Moore said of Hamrlik. "A player like him, he's definitely been in situations like this before, so it's going to be critical for us to have him in there. It's huge for us to have someone of his caliber to come in."

Moore said he and Hamrlik travel to and from the Rangers practice facility together because they live in the same building.

"A lot of times I'm asking him questions," Moore said. "He's been a vocal person for me."

Stralman has been one of the Rangers' top defensemen in the playoffs, averaging more than 21 minutes per game.

"There's been nights when he's been far and away our best defensemen," Moore said. "He's playing some big heavy minutes in the top four, so the onus falls on guys like myself [to pick up his minutes]. And really, if you take it a step further, [the Bruins'] fourth line has been so good in this series, so regardless of where you are, what pair, we need to make sure we're raising our level here."


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