WASHINGTON - It was a strange and somewhat sad sight. Brad Richards was on the ice for an optional skate before a back-to-back game, an event generally reserved for fourth-liners, rehabbing players and spares.
For the moment, Richards, who had four goals and two assists in seven games against the Capitals in last year's seven-game playoff series, has slid to the role of bottom-line center. Besides backup goaltender Martin Biron, the team's alternate captain was on ice with Chris Kreider, who played only 4:05 in Game 6, and scratches Kris Newbury, Matt Gilroy, Roman Hamrlik and Marc Staal.
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Richards played only 10 shifts for 9:34 in Game 6, a 1-0 victory at MSG that kept the Rangers alive in the postseason. About four minutes of that was on the power play, which was 0-for-5. He has one goal in six games in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals and his game has diminished. He did have two shots and won two faceoffs, but Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan and Brian Boyle have passed him on coach John Tortorella's depth chart at center.
Tortorella, who won a Stanley Cup with Richards in Tampa Bay in 2004, still has faith in Richards, who carries a $6.6-million cap hit, far too much for a bottom-six player. But with the salary cap dipping next season, speculation has increased that Richards will be offered a compliance buyout this summer, similar to the one the Rangers used on Wade Redden.
Ryane Clowe and Darroll Powe, each believed to have been concussed by hits, did not make the trip. Powe played in Games 1 and 2, then was injured early in Game 3. Clowe returned from an injury in Game 4, recorded an assist, and then left Game 5 after being boarded in the first period . . . J.T. Miller and Stu Bickel, each of whom has nagging wrist injuries, are no longer skating with the taxi squad and have been sent home for rest.