Dan Girardi Making it Count if this is his Last Run with Rangers
If this represents Dan Girardi’s Last Stand as a Ranger, then it could be something special to remember this special player by if, as seems likely, he is elsewhere next season.
For the soon-to-be 33-year-old defenseman, who is coming off consecutive seasons diminished by a series of injuries, staged his own revival during the first-round victory over the Canadiens, establishing the tone by delivering a thunderous Game 1 first-period hit on Max Pacioretty and then never relenting the rest of the way.
But Girardi, who faces the likelihood of a June buyout of the final three years of his deal, worth an annual $5.5 million cap hit, made it clear following Saturday’s Game 6 clincher that this is neither about personal redemption nor about leaving a legacy behind.
“I’m not worried about what might happen later or what happened before. I’m only thinking about right now,” Girardi told
The Post. “I’m just playing every game as hard as I can.
“I’m not doing any speculating about the future. I’m playing to help the team win. I’m not playing for next year. I’m playing to win the Cup.”
Girardi and the Rangers resume their quest for the Cup on Thursday, when they will face the Senators in Ottawa in the opener of Round 2. The Senators have some punishing defensemen of their own in Dion Phaneuf, Marc Methot and Mark Borowiecki, but none was as physical in the six-game elimination of the Bruins as Girardi was against Montreal from beginning to end.
Not only did the blow on Pacioretty establish a template for the Rangers, Girardi’s huge hit on Andrew Shaw seven minutes into overtime of Game 5 knocked the Montreal center out of Game 6 with an upper-body injury. Shaw’s absence had a major impact on the match, for the Canadiens didn’t play quite as big or pose quite the problem around the net without the 6-foot-5 forward barreling toward the crease and into Henrik Lundqvist on every shift.
And after an opening two games in which the Rangers were pinned in their own end an inordinate amount of time — with Girardi a 33.3 percent Corsi player — the alternate captain recorded a 52.2 percent Corsi the remainder of the series, and 54.9 percent in victories in Games 5 and 6.
“The opportunities were there and I took them,” Girardi said of the big hits that rocked the Habs and, in turn, got his own team rocking. “I just tried to be as physical as I could be throughout the series without running around and leaving the team vulnerable.
“Obviously it wasn’t just me. Everyone was physical. Everyone did what they could to contribute.”
Girardi is the second most senior Ranger to Lundqvist after joining the club during the 2006-07 All-Star break. Wearing No. 46, he was paired with Fedor Tyutin. A couple of years later as the now familiar No. 5, he joined Marc Staal on the club’s top pair. When Staal missed the first half of the 2011-12 season while suffering post-concussion symptoms, Girardi teamed with Ryan McDonagh, with whom he still skates on the top unit.
He is ninth in franchise history with 788 games played, fifth among defensemen behind Harry Howell, Brian Leetch, Ron Greschner and Jim Neilson. He leads all Ranger skaters in playoff games played with 116 and counting. He was a charter member of the Black-and-Blueshirts, consistently among the club and league leaders in blocked shots and hits.
Everyone knows the story. Those years took a toll. Playing 759 games of a possible 764 (playoffs included) from the time he joined the team through the end of the 2014-15 season took a toll. The game grew faster and faster, still.
The alternate captain played only 63 games this season. He missed nearly a month late in the year recuperating from a right ankle wound he sustained while blocking a shot. The time off seems to have done him a world of good.
“I feel good. Obviously I’m very pleased not only with my game but with the way we came together after Game 3 and played the rest of the series,” Girardi said. “At the same time, though, we all know there’s a long haul to the end.”
The realities of the cap system make it far more likely than not that this represents the last go-round for Girardi on Broadway. But that is for after the playoffs.
“Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I’m just excited to be with such a close-knit team.”
One thing, though. If this is Girardi’s Last Stand, it is sure going a whole lot better than Custer’s.