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Rangers' defense carrying the offensive load

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Rangers' defense carrying the offensive load
In the regular season, the Rangers' defense chipped in a bit offensively. But in the playoffs, that unit has provided major offensive contributions.

New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi didn't just sit back and wait for the puck to come to him after Brad Richards won an offensive-zone faceoff in the third period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Instead, Girardi skated toward the puck and fired a shot from the right circle that beat Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur to the stick side for his second game-winning goal of the series.

Girardi is the epitome of the Rangers' blue line, a hard-working grinder who never has met a shot he didn't want to block. But if things continue like this during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Rangers' defensemen are going to be more known for creating offense instead of preventing it.

RANGERS 'D' BY THE NUMBERS



REGULAR SEASON

30 goals, 150 pts in 82 games, 5 GWG in 51 wins
- 13.5 percent of goals (222)
- .37 goals per game
- 1.83 points per game
- 3 PP goals
- 553 shots/6.74 per game
 
Del Zotto: 0.53 points per game
McDonagh: 0.39 points per game
Girardi: 0.35 points per game
Stralman: 0.34 points per game
Bickel: 0.18 points per game
Staal: 0.11 points per game

POSTSEASON

11 goals, 34 pts in 17 games, 5 GWG in 10 wins
- 29.7 percent of goals (37)
- 6 PP goals
- 0.65 goals per game
- 2 points per game
- 148 shots/8.7 per game

Girardi: 0.65 points per game
Del Zotto: 0.53 points per game
Staal: 0.35 points per game
Stralman: 0.35 points per game
McDonagh: 0.12 points per game
Bickel: 0.00 points per game


-- Dave Lozo

If this outbreak of offense seems mystifying, take solace in the fact Girardi has a hard time explaining it, too.

"I'm not really sure," said Girardi, who has three game-winning goals in the playoffs. "Our game plan is just to get our [defensemen] in the rush and create maybe some four- or five-man rushes, and it's happened that some of our shots are going in right now. We're all just trying to get the puck to the net and get it down to the forwards for tips and screens. We're fortunate some our shots are going in right now."

Here are just a few of the jaw-dropping numbers the Rangers' defensemen have posted during the postseason:

* They have 11 goals in 17 games after scoring just 30 goals in 82 regular-season games.

* They have five game-winning goals, matching their total from the regular season.

* They have six power-play goals after scoring only three in the regular season.

* They have accounted for 29.7 percent of the offense, up from 13.5 percent in the regular season.

Girardi is first among defensemen in postseason scoring with 11 points while Michael Del Zotto is second with nine points. With the Rangers drowning in their own offensive ineptitude at times in the playoffs, goals from the blue line have been a life preserver keeping them afloat.

"It's very important," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "Goals are tough to come by throughout the playoffs here. And if you're getting some from your back end, I think we're 1-2 there right now. Danny with three game-winners, it's certainly helping. We're hoping to get other guys going, but until then that's part of the offense. That's a big part of the offense in the National Hockey League."

The simple explanation for the jump in goals is the increase in shots.

During the regular season, Rangers defensemen averaged about 6.7 shots per game; in the postseason, that number has increased to 8.7 per game. Some of it has to do with the style of playoff hockey in which almost every team -- especially the Senators and Capitals, the Rangers' opponents in the first two rounds -- packs five defenders around the crease. That leaves forwards no choice but to feed the puck to the defensemen for shots from the point.

"Our game plan is just to get our [defensemen] in the rush and create maybe some four- or five-man rushes, and it's happened that some of our shots are going in right now."
-- Rangers' defenseman Dan Girardi

That appeared to be a smart strategy entering the postseason, as the Rangers didn't possess much in the way of high-scoring defensemen outside of Del Zotto, who had 10 goals and 41 points in 77 games. Second-leading scorer at the blue line Ryan McDonagh actually has seen his numbers take a dramatic drop, from 32 points to two points.

While Girardi nearly has doubled his offensive output in the playoffs, from 0.35 points per game to 0.65 per game, the resurgence of Marc Staal has been the most dramatic. He missed the first 36 games of the regular season with a concussion and had just two goals and three assists in 46 games. But he has exceeded that in the postseason with three goals -- two on the power play, one game-winner -- and three assists.

"I think anytime in the playoffs, it gets so congested and tight defensively that if you can join and make them back off a little bit and get your shots through, it will help our forwards out big time," Staal said. "Lately, we've been helping out that way. It's been a lot of fun."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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