Only time will tell whether Dan Girardi's overtime miscue will become the defining moment in the 2014 Stanley Cup final.
The clearing attempt from the usually reliable New York Rangers defenceman landed on the stick of Los Angeles Kings centre Mike Richards, who swiftly set up teammate Justin Williams for the game winner in the series opener at the Staples Center on Wednesday.
Girardi was under pressure from a Kings forward Tanner Pearson. He had stumbled backwards as he tried to get a handle on the bouncing puck. His teammate Benoit Pouliot and defence partner Ryan McDonagh already had abandoned the Rangers zone.
Girardi felt horrible about the gaffe, but hopes to shake off the mistake as his team prepares for Game 2 in Los Angeles on Saturday.
"You've got to have a short-term memory," Girardi told reporters. "It was a tough play. There's nothing I can do about it right now."
"I tried to make a play up the middle and [the puck] bounces. I kind of got to one knee. I'm just thinking, 'Get it up the wall.' But [Richards] was there. He made a smart play to the middle. We can't give Williams a shot like that. He's pretty clutch in the playoffs."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault refused to point fingers.
"[Pouliot] thinks that's an automatic play," Vigneault said. "The puck bounced over Dan's stick. Not sure what he could do there. It was an unlucky bounce on our part, a fortunate bounce on their part. He couldn't put the handle on it. I mean it was a bang-bang play. We were going north/south. We thought the puck was moving."
Bad bounces happen
Girardi makes that play 99 per cent of the time. Even though he was undrafted, he has become a NHL all-star defenceman. Plays like this happen. Just ask Kings blue-chipper Drew Doughty. He was stripped of the puck at the Rangers blue line by Pouliot early in the game for a breakaway goal.
This was Girardi's 85th Stanley Cup playoff game to go with 569 regular season games, all in a Rangers sweater. He beat the odds and he's an easy person to cheer for because he never gave up. His teammates felt bad for him last night, but they know Girardi will rebound.
At the 2002 NHL entry draft at the Air Canada Centre, Girardi followed the selections. He watched buddies from his hometown of Welland, Ont. get chosen. Daniel Paille was taken early, in the first round as the 20th overall pick to the Buffalo Sabres. Andre Deveaux was selected later in the sixth round by the Montreal Canadiens. After the Detroit Red Wings snatched Jonathan Ericsson with the 291st and final selection, Girardi was left out in the cold.
'No reason to get down'
He didn't play much in his draft year with the Barrie Colts because of a ruptured spleen he suffered in a preseason game. But he recovered in time to play 21 regular season games and help the Colts advance to the OHL final. Still, he wasn't drafted.
"There was no reason to get down," he said. "I knew there were other ways to make the NHL, so I decided to finish my junior career and then see what happens."
Girardi made it back to the OHL final in 2004 with the Guelph Storm. This time he won the championship. He duplicated the accomplishment as an over-ager the next with the London Knights. Rangers scout Rich Brown noticed.
"He came onto my radar that [2003-04] season," Brown recalled. "They won the OHL title that year and in order to get to the final he had to go up against the London Knights and shut down Corey Perry. The next year when he was an over-ager in the Memorial Cup, I invited [Rangers director of player personnel] Gordie Clark to have a look at him."
Brown checked out Girardi's character with his friend, Knights general manager Mark Hunter. Brown was an assistant coach under Hunter with the St. John's Maple Leafs and a few seasons later he was the head coach when Hunter was the Sarnia Sting GM.
Hunter gave Girardi a glowing report. He told Brown about the right hand injury Girardi suffered in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. The Knights wanted the defenceman to get an x-ray on his hand, but Girardi claimed that wasn't necessary and instead opted to play through the pain. After the Memorial Cup win it was discovered he played for almost two months with a broken bone in his hand.
Girardi had to start his pro career with the Charlotte Checkers in the ECHL in 2005-06. But when Rangers farmhand Joe Rullier was hurt in Hartford, Girardi was promoted to the AHL after only seven games in the ECHL. He never went back to Charlotte. In 2006-07, Darius Kasparaitis was injured. Girardi replaced him and has only missed five regular season games with the Rangers since.
"Starting off it was about getting an opportunity," Girardi said. "After that it was about trying to improve every year, whether it was getting stronger or faster, I also just tried to take the knowledge and experience I was gaining every year to become a better player."
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