Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi leaves in the third period of Thursday’s Game 1 against the Penguins at the Garden after taking a puck to the face.
A puck to the face couldn’t even keep Dan Girardi away from Friday afternoon’s practice in Greenburgh, let alone Game 2 Saturday night at the Garden.
“I tell myself I’ve seen everything, and now he’s playing through a puck in the face,” said captain Ryan McDonagh, Girardi’s top-pair defensive partner and the winning goal-scorer in Game 1.
Girardi’s right cheek along his jaw line is swollen, but he said his teeth and jaw are intact despite being hit with 9:29 remaining in Thursday night’s 2-1 Game 1 victory for the top-seeded Blueshirts over the second wild-card Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz’s shot ticked up off Girardi’s own stick as he was defending, and he left the game and did not return. But Girardi insisted he could have kept playing, except the team dentist and doctors wanted to be thorough.
“They just spent so much time examining me, not just my teeth but my jaw, too, because of what happened to Step last year,” Girardi said, referring to center Derek Stepan’s broken jaw in last spring’s Eastern Conference Final. “By the time they were done, there was only a minute left and I only had half my uniform on.”
Girardi, 30, who blocked a franchise high 10 shots in a 3-2 win in Winnipeg on March 31, has played in 741 of a possible 746 career games despite his physical style, regular season and playoffs combined.
He is remembered for struggling in last year’s Stanley Cup Final loss to the Los Angeles Kings, but he was playing through countless bumps and bruises he’ll never talk about – plus, that marked an uncharacteristically poor stretch for one of the Rangers’ most irreplaceable players.
“Especially when you have a lead, Danny’s one of those guys you want to have on your side,” said center Derick Brassard, who scored the Blueshirts’ first goal 28 seconds into Game 1.
Dan Girardi says his teeth and jaw are intact after despite being hit in the jaw on Thursday.
That’s what was most impressive about the Rangers holding the Penguins without a shot for the final six minutes and 49 seconds of Thursday’s victory – they did it without Girardi. Marc Staal (9:09 of ice time) and McDonagh (8:46) were Alain Vigneault’s biggest third-period workhorses on the blue line, but defending a lead for the Rangers isn’t just about their defense.
Speedster left wing Carl Hagelin, 26, who logged a whopping 7:09 of ice time in the third, is a critical component of the Blueshirts’ ability to protecting a lead by attacking.
Critics often laud the Rangers’ team speed, but more often they are talking about their offense. Defensively, the Rangers’ speed manifests itself as their greatest strength, as well, led by Hagelin, 26, a pending restricted free agent making $ 2.25 million in the final season of his second NHL contract.
“Our all-around game is based on speed, offensively or defensively,” the Swedish forward said. “We force other teams to make quick decisions, so they don’t have that extra second to make that perfect play.
Hagelin’s durability – he played in all 82 regular season games – and his ability to keep his game at high speeds this late is a credit to a relentless offseason work ethic. Hagelin’s older brother Bobbie, once an elite teenage, started organizing workouts for Carl when he was 16 years old, and the regimen continues to this day.
“That’s definitely a big part of me,” Hagelin said of his conditioning. “That’s what I love about this time of year: how you want to feel good about yourself every night and play at an elite level.”
The Rangers weren’t content with their one-game lead on Friday, though.
Vigneault made clear there were a few areas of the Rangers’ Game 1 that need to improve significantly, referring undoubtedly in part to frequent giveaways in the second period.
Vigneault also challenged the NHL’s officials to pay closer attention to what he felt was frequent Penguins goaltender interference on Henrik Lundqvist.
The referees whistled Kunitz for goalie interference in the first period, but Pens forward Max Lapierre – whom Vigneault coached both in juniors and with the Vancouver Canucks – was a pest. He created traffic in front on Blake Comeau’s second-period goal and yapped at Lundqvist on his next shift. Then later in the second, Pittsburgh forward Steve Downie slashed Lundqvist without consequence.
“Hank plays in the blue paint,” Vigneault said. “When he gets hit, the blue paint’s the goaltender. It’s because there’s a willingness to go there and disturb. There was a lot of stuff from certain of their players that we knew was gonna happen after the whistle. We hope that the referees are gonna see it and call it. We’re going to play whistle to whistle and be a very disciplined team.”
Kevin Klein (broken left arm, day-to-day) is one of the Rangers’ most effective net-clearing defensemen, but he will miss a second straight game to open the postseason. He has not played since March 11.
The Rangers went just 1-for-5 on the power play trying to make the Penguins pay for their penalties, but McDonagh’s first-period power play goal held up as the game-winner.
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