It was not a wraparound that beat Martin Brodeur this time.
It was a slapshot.
“I want to be a difference-maker,” said Dan Girardi, the beaten Broadway fedora resting atop his head a few minutes after his slapshot from the point gave the New York Rangers a lead they would not relinquish. The home team went on to a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 1-0. Game 2 is Wednesday night at MSG.
Girardi finished with a goal and a secondary assist on Chris Kreider’s power-play breakaway with eight minutes left in the game. In 25:11 of ice time, he was plus-two with seven shots, three hits and five blocked shots.
“Dan has made some really big plays,” John Tortorella said. “Not just getting on the scoreboard, but big play offensively right on through the playoffs.”
The Rangers won Game 1 in the third period after absorbing the best the Devils had in the second. Even though the Rangers had a marginal advantage in shots at the second intermission, 18-17, New Jersey was the better team in the period. The Devils outshot the Rangers, 11-10, in a second period that was mostly played in New York’s end of the ice.
“They are always pressuring you,” Ryan McDonagh said of the Devils. “You just have to simplify it and find, not so much an open guy, but an open area and have our forwards chase it down.
“We have to be aware of [the Devils’] forecheck,” McDonagh added. “We felt it pretty good there in the second but we stayed with it, and I thought we handled it really well in the third. We’ve done it all year, just stayed with our structure and our game. We came through tonight.”
The Devils’ best chances came while shorthanded in the second period. Zach Parise fired back-to-back-to-back shots at Henrik Lundqvist from within 10 feet. Lundqvist earned his fifth career playoff shutout by stopping 21 shots. Mike Richter holds the franchise record with nine shutouts.
“The opportunities, they were definitely there,” Parise said. “We had some right in front; some point-blank ones. What do you do? He played well.”
He also got some help from his friends.
As has been their modus operandi, the Rangers clogged the defensive zone and blocked shots (26 in all). Lundqvist also benefitted from McDonagh’s backchecking, which eradicated Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk first period breakaways.
“He’s such a good skater,” Lundqvist said. “[It] looked like he was pretty far behind, but he would catch up. He’s such a great skater, he can be aggressive in his game. He can join the rush but he’s really quick to recover if something happens.”
It was McDonagh’s partner, Girardi, who made something happen offensively. Just 53 seconds into the third, he followed the play into the offensive zone and one-timed a Kreider feed past a screened Brodeur for the only goal the Rangers would need.
“He’s so confident,” Lundqvist said of Girardi. “He’s strong with the puck both ways. I thought he played really strong the whole night and helped out in front, blocking shots. I always know what to expect from him and it’s a great feeling as a goalie.”
The Rangers surged after Girardi’s goal. They finished with 10 shots in the period and outshot New Jersey 28-21 for the game. Kreider’s power-play breakaway increased the lead to 2-0, and Artem Anisimov effectively ended the game with an empty-net goal with 1:27 left.
Kreider’s goal was his third of the playoff season. Like Girardi, he finished with two points. Kreider was plus one in 15:39.
“He played good,” was Tortorella’s assessment of Kreider. “He played a good game.”
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman