NEW YORK -- Dan Girardi looked fresh, like he could play another 26 minutes. Marc Staal looked beat, like he would be sick if he had to play yet another 27 minutes.
Defense - NYR
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 9 | +/-: 0
That's the difference between playing a full season (Girardi) on the Rangers' blue line and a half season (Staal). But the Rangers will take a tired, sitting Staal and an energetic, upright Girardi after every game if they're going to continue to be as important and impressive as they were Thursday in a 2-1 Game 7 win against Ottawa at Madison Square Garden.
Staal scored the first goal of the game and logged a team-high 26:44 of ice time. Girardi scored the second goal, the game-winner, and logged exactly 25:49.
They each had three blocked shots -- one of Girardi's saved a would-be goal by Filip Kuba during a Senators' power play late in the first period. They were on the ice together for a roughly three-minute shift late in the third period, denying the Senators the tying goal by keeping the shots to the outside and the middle of the ice as clean as possible.
Girardi also had a monster hit on Erik Karlsson to blow up a Senators' scoring chance just before his block on Kuba.
"It felt good," Girardi said. "You want to be out there. You want to make a difference. You want to make sure they're not getting anything in our end. When so much is on the line you're really not feeling tired. You're just more excited and trying to get the job done."
Staal, sitting on the wooden bench in front of his soaking wet equipment that was hanging up, said something very similar. He talked about how every player who yearns to make a difference wants to be on the ice as much as possible, and that it was fun to be out there for so many important moments, especially late in the game with the Senators surging.
RANGERS VS. SENATORS
Rangers advance with Game 7 win
By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer With the Senators throwing everything they could at goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers did what they did all season -- throw every body part they could in front of any puck coming toward the net. Goals from defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi in the second period stood up as the Rangers won 2-1 to advance to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2008. READ MORE ›
"We were just trying our best to not have any pucks come through the crease and into the slot," he said. "When you're on the ice tired like that sometimes you get a little scrambly, so you're just trying to get sticks on point shots and make sure you're doing things to make Hank [goalie Henrik Lundqvist] see it or maybe we can get a whistle or a bounce where we can get it out to get off the ice. You're doing all you can to make sure it doesn't go in the net."
Girardi has been doing that all season for the Rangers. He took over as their No. 1 defenseman as soon as they touched down in Europe to start the season. Staal was home, seeing doctors and dealing with concussion symptoms that he had been battling all summer.
Since that trip for the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere series, Girardi has been the Rangers' horse on the back end. He was second in the NHL in total time on ice and fourth in time on ice per game at 26:14. He blocked 185 shots, good for fifth in the League. He was a first-time All-Star for a reason.
He was even better in the first-round series against the Senators. Girardi logged nearly two minutes of ice time more per game (28:03) than he did in the regular season and he leads the NHL with 30 blocked shots -- arguably none more important than the one he had on Kuba's shot off a rebound with 2:50 to play in the first period.
Lundqvist was out of the play after making a save, so if Girardi doesn't make that block the Senators would have taken a 1-0 lead.
"Oh yeah, that's a big play. I was lost," Lundqvist said. "He had a couple of huge plays tonight, especially that one and the goal, obviously."
"There was nothing but net behind him," Staal added. "People think you just get in front of it and it's pretty easy, but it's a lot of timing, reading the stick. He's one of the best at it that I've seen."
Rangers coach John Tortorella called "just a small play becoming a big play." He said the Rangers made just a few more of them than Ottawa over the last two games of the series and that was the difference.
"It's being in the way more than diving in front of a shot," Girardi said. "It's just being in good position. Everyone was doing it, it just happened to be an open net."
Staal had to wait for his concussion symptoms to subside before jumping in to make a difference. He didn't debut until the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in Philadelphia, but it took him the rest of the regular season and the first few games against Ottawa to finally get back to how he felt before his concussion.
"These last few games I felt like my legs were getting back and my confidence," Staal said. "I know I need to be leaned on in the playoffs for us to succeed so I knew I needed to get my game back to where it was. I'm still working on it, but I feel pretty good. It's been a battle, but it's great to be part of it."
He was a huge part of it Thursday. His goal off a 2-on-1 with Derek Stepan gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 4:46 into the second period. Girardi scored on a one-timer from the slot less than five minutes later to make it 2-0.
"The last thing that has come with Marc is his consistency with the puck, and he banged one in tonight," Tortorella said. "He played really well."
"Marc is such a talented player so when he's on top of his game he's going to be a difference," Lundqvist said. "He's going to be a game-changer and he looked really good out there."
And really tired as he sat in his dressing room stall with reporters around him. Girardi stood maybe 20 feet away, leaning slightly on the edge of Stu Bickel's stall, talking to a different group of reporters with nary a bead of sweat coming off his brow.
They looked different, but they felt the same.
"I'm sure later on I'll be tired," Girardi said, "but we've got a quick turnaround; gotta get ready for the next series."
The Capitals better get used to seeing Nos. 5 and 18 in blue and white.