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Fennelly: Tortorella, Richards forever linked by Cup

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Published:   |   Updated: May 24, 2013 at 09:24 PM
TAMPA -

They'll walk together forever, though you wouldn't know it right now.

We still tag along with them, too.

John Tortorella and Brad Richards, Torts and Richy, who helped make the Lightning Stanley Cup champions nine years ago, are again making playoff hockey news.

It's not exactly good: Tortorella benched Richards, a healthy scratch, with the New York Rangers facing elimination in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Bruins. The Rangers, down 3-0 in the series, rallied to win in overtime to stay alive, at least until today.

After, Johnny Torts, as only he can, defended Richards, as well as his decision to sit him.

Move over Shut Your Yap — make room for Kiss My Butt.

Oh, and Torts didn't use “butt.”

“This is a Conn Smythe winner, a guy I've grown up with, a guy that I love as a person and as a player,” Tortorella said. “But I have to make that decision ... so kiss my … if you wanna write something different.”

For those who followed the Lightning on their way to the Cup in 2004, even for those who covered them in the media, we still follow these men. Richards left Tampa Bay, a place he loved, five years ago, traded to Dallas. Tortorella left not long after that. No matter.

It was Torts and Richy, Marty and Vinny, Andy and Khabby and all the rest, who made history here. They'll walk together forever. And that's what communities do with their championship teams. They hang on, hold on. It's not hard to remember Tortorella driving the Bolts to their championship — or Richards scoring a record seven game-winning goals on the way to the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

We followed them later, Richards in Dallas, Tortorella's exhilarating and sometimes embarrassing displays, great TV as long as the children are in bed.

Now it's Torts with his job on the line. It's Richy and Vinny, together again in amnesty buyout speculation.

Richards arrived in New York last season, reunited with Tortorella after signing for nine years and $60 million. The Rangers, with 50 wins, seemed poised to win the Cup, but fell in the Eastern Conference final.

They struggled through most of this shortened season, but they beat Washington in the opening round of the playoffs. Richards, 33, had only 12 goals this season and has one in 10 playoff games. Thursday was the low point.

New York's season could end today with Game 5 in Boston. If that happens, and maybe even if it doesn't, Tortorella might not be back. The same goes for Richards.

The Stanley Cup playoffs roll on.

The Penguins' all-star fast break is overpowering Ottawa. The Blackhawks, the best team in the regular season, are seeing octopi and Red Wings in their soup. Defending Cup champion Los Angeles, tied with San Jose, regained form in Game 5, a shutout, Jonathan Quick and the Dead.

And there are the Bruins, beneficiaries of the Maple Leafs' classic first-round gag, now poised to advance with one more win over the Rangers, even if some of their crew blew a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia in 2010.

Our connection to these playoffs is still that coach and star from 2004 — Torts and Richy. John Tortorella might love the guy, but I'm not sure if there's any love left on Richards' end. I'm sure he's crushed. Funny, but I bet Torts would love nothing more than Richards storming into his office and demanding that he play, that kind of fire, the kind that once made a team from Tampa a Cup champion.

That's why Torts and Richy really do walk together forever — even if they aren't at the moment. They were part of a team that won it all. It's why we remember them. But it does seem like nine years ago. In fact, it seems longer.

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