NEW YORK -- Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller made their return to Madison Square Garden a triumphant one when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Rangers 7-3 on Friday.
Each took part in his first game at New York since leaving the Rangers. Girardi signed a three-year contract with the Lightning on July 1 after the Rangers bought him out June 14, and McDonagh and Miller were traded to Tampa Bay on Feb. 26 for forward Vladislav Namestnikov and prospects.
"You never know until you go through it," said McDonagh, a 28-year-old who was Rangers captain for four seasons. "I never imagined myself having to go through something like this, but now that it is taking place, you remember everything that you gave for this organization and everything that this organization did for you and your family too."
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The two defensemen (Girardi, McDonagh) and forward Miller were in the starting lineup and were recognized in a pregame video tribute. Miller had a goal and an assist, and Girardi scored in the final minute.
"A month ago, I didn't expect to play this game," said Miller, a 25-year-old who has 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in 15 games with the Lightning. "A lot of good friends there on the other side, so you try to keep it serious and professional during the game. ... There are a lot of emotions and thoughts coming into this game, but you just want to play your game, and luckily I got one to come to my stick in the front of the net."
McDonagh had 238 points (51 goals, 187 assists) in 516 games with the Rangers, who acquired him in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens on July 6, 2010.
"I think it's a good thing [coming back happened] relatively shortly after the trade," McDonagh said. "I think about Girardi's case, he's got to wait almost a full season to get back here. He said to me when the trade went down that we were going to ruin his tribute day back here at MSG, but I think it's been fun knowing for both of us, and J.T. as well, we are all kind of going through this together."
McDonagh has three points (two goals, one assist) in 10 games with the Lightning and was able to fit in nicely thanks to his good friend and longtime defense partner Girardi having gone through the same experience.
"It is definitely a weird feeling," said Girardi, a 33-year-old who played 788 regular-season games with the Rangers after they signed him as a free agent in 2006. "Me and Mac went to Starbucks, walked over, and a lot of fans came up to us. It was really nice and [they] thanked us for all our years here. It's still weird to be out there with Mac on the blue line for a different team, but I'm very happy to have him and J.T. on our team and looking forward to hopefully a good run here."
Video: TBL@NYR: Girardi scores PPG in return to MSG
The Lightning (52-22-4) are one point ahead of the Boston Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division having played two more games.
McDonagh recalled a playoff series-clinching goal he scored with the Rangers.
"Certainly that run there (in 2015) with the overtime winner I had against the Capitals (in Game 5 of the second round) is a great moment for sure, but there are tons to pick from," he said. "Any playoff run we've had here has been a memorable one."
Girardi had 230 points (46 goals, 184 assists) with the Rangers. He has 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) this season.
"[Madison Square Garden is a] great building to play in," Girardi said. "... Obviously winning the East here (against the Montreal Canadiens in 2014), that was big. Game 7 against Washington (in the second round in 2015) when I shot it, [Derek Stepan] got the rebound and scored, that was obviously a huge moment. I could be here all day talking about all these games and all the moments, but I had a great time here for 11 years.
"Blood sweat and tears. Bled blue for 11 years ... well I guess I am still bleeding blue."
Video: TBL@NYR: Miller nets PPG in return to MSG