Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
It wouldn't be a statement game for the Rangers without a memorable statement from the Rangers' coach.
"This is a Conn Smythe winner, a guy I've grown up with, a guy I love, as a person and a player," Tortorella said after the Rangers' 4-3 overtime win over the Bruins to save their postseason, a game played with Richards a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career. "But I have to make that decision. Kiss my ---- if you want to write something different."
The Rangers' coach doesn't expound much, but he wanted to take the time to explain why Richards, the player Tortorella helped lure to New York two summers ago (along with $61 million over nine years), was in street clothes for the biggest game of this Rangers season.
"By no means is this a situation where I take him out, where I'm blaming him," Tortorella said. "I'm playing Brad on the fourth line, playing seven or eight minutes -- it's not good for him. It doesn't work playing Brad Richards that way."
Unfortunately for Tortorella and his higher-ups in the organization, this move does go deeper. Tortorella's team showed some grit -- or jam, as he likes to say -- in coming off deficits of 3-0 in the series and 2-0 in the game to pull it out. Kris Newbury, Micheal Haley and Derek Dorsett were on the fourth line, where Richards had been, and that trio of scrappers did their jobs.
Chris Kreider, Richards' former fourth-line mate, produced the OT winner playing alongside Rick Nash. The power play, Richards' baby, which had gone 0-for-the-series coming in, produced the tying goal, Brian Boyle's snipe from the slot halfway through the third.
The Rangers got Richards in July 2011 because they felt they could not reach the pinnacle without him. They won a game Thursday without him and he most assuredly will not be back in the lineup barring an undisclosed injury to another forward as long as this series continues.
Then comes the harder part, especially for Tortorella: The Rangers have almost no choice but to buy out the remaining seven years of Richards' contract when the buyout window opens in June.
The salary cap goes from $70.2 million to $64.3 million next season. Glen Sather, Jeff Gorton and the Rangers' front office have to figure out how to get Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin, all restricted free agents, signed this offseason. Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi, three unrestricted free agents who will cost a bundle, come due in the summer of 2014.
All six of those Rangers are crucial to re-sign. If Tortorella and Sather have learned anything from this struggle of a season that improbably continues Saturday, it's that these Rangers need depth. Dealing away Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov and losing Brandon Prust in free agency compromised their forward depth, and Marc Staal's eye injury has left them thin on defense.
The Marian Gaborik trade last month did an enormous job of freeing up cap room for next season, but there still is more work to do, and Richards' drop-off the last two months has been steep and disturbing.
And to no one more than the coach who made the hardest decision Thursday night.
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