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John Tortorella shakes up lineup with seldom-used players

Roman Hamrlik of the Rangers skates against the

Roman Hamrlik of the Rangers skates against the Boston Bruins during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Madison Square Garden. (May 23, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

With the Rangers facing playoff elimination against the Bruins Thursday night, the context was obvious. Both in word ("It's beyond desperation now,'' goalie Henrik Lundqvist said before the puck was dropped) and deed, with John Tortorella benching one of his most accomplished veterans and resorting to some of the least-used players on his roster.

Not only did Tortorella turn to 39-year-old former All-Star Roman Hamrlik, whose experience couldn't hurt an injury-thinned defense, although he hadn't played since April 1. But with former playoff MVP Brad Richards a healthy scratch, Tortorella called on forwards Micheal Haley, playing his first NHL postseason game at 27, and 31-year-old Kris Newbury, who spent virtually the entire season on the Rangers' Connecticut farm club and had a single previous playoff appearance on his resume.

None of those three had scored an NHL goal since last year. (That was Hamrlik, the defenseman, who had one assist in 16 games for the Rangers this regular season.) Haley last put a puck in the net in March 2011, Newbury in December 2009.

But Tortorella had determined that Richards was not supplying the strength to do what needed to be done. And, without the benefit of focus groups, polls or academic studies, the circumstances -- down three games to none -- clearly had raised the Rangers' anxiety to a dangerous level.

And here's how the strategy worked out for the Rangers, who let more marquee names boost them to a 4-3 overtime victory:

Hamrlik picked up an assist in starting the rush that led to Carl Hagelin's fortuitous second-period goal, when Boston goalie Tuukka Rask slipped, fell on his wallet and couldn't reach Hagelin's fairly wimpy rebound trickling past.

Newbury enlivened the Madison Square Garden crowd a bit midway through the first period with only the third shot on goal by the Rangers (a routine save by Rask) and a subsequent hard hit. But he plowed into Rask to earn the interference penalty that handed Boston the power play that generated Nathan Horton's opening goal.

And, ultimately, the reserves were just reserves, with minimal ice time. Perhaps their real role was a lesson to the insatiable beast of a Garden crowd, which often doesn't consider the formidable presence of another team when the Rangers struggle.

"I've been watching the games from upstairs,'' Hamrlik said of his recent exile as a scratch. "It's a different view. On the ice, it's much faster. You have to think really quickly what you're going to do. You have to read the play, use your stick, make quick passes. It's not easy.''

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