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Lightning’s Dan Girardi, the human shot-stoppper

By Martin Fennelly
Tampa Bay Lightning's Dan Girardi (5) prepares for a faceoff during the first period of Sunday's (9/24/17) preseason game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena in Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

TAMPA ó Heís 33, and there are days when he feels older. He plays in the fastest game going, and he isnít very fast. That doesnít stop Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi. Twelve seasons into his NHL career, he still puts his body on the line each game, and he has played more than 900 of them, counting playoffs.

Since 2007-08, his first full season in the league, no man in hockey has gotten in front of more shots and blocked them than Girardi.

No man. 798 regular-season games, 1,670 blocked shots.

There was a recent game in Detroit. The Lightning was on the penalty kill. The puck came to Detroitís Martin Frk, who has a blistering shot. Girardi jumped into the breach. The puck hit his right skate. He crumpled to the ice, then limped to the bench. He returned for his next shift.

"The foot was pretty big after that," Girardi said, smiling. "You just have to be willing to pay the price. You canít really think about it, because if you think, youíll go, ĎHere it comes. Itís going to hurt.í "

The 8-1-1 Lightning have stars everywhere. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy. Even rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who scored again in Tuesdayís win at Carolina.

Dan Girardi didnít score. He doesnít have a point this season. But he has helped the Lightningís back line early this season, nothing flashy ó a Girardi staple, defensemanís defense. Frankly, he has been better than some of us expected.

"I know I can still play," said Girardi, who signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Lightning in July. "But to show some people, that doesnít hurt to motivate you."

Consider that the New York Rangers bought out Girardiís contract after last season, or that analytics are Girardiís sworn enemy. One statistic, goals above replacement, ranked him as just about the worst defenseman in hockey. People are always taking shots at Dan Girardi, even off the ice.

"I guess Iím like the worst guy for all these analytics," he said. "I donít much care. Iím a team-first guy. Iím going to keep it really simple. Iím going to try to do all the little things right, make that first pass a good one, get in the lane and block that shot, finish my check, try to get the boys going."

Lightning wing Ryan Callahan, who also was Girardiís teammate in New York, said, "To win championships, you need guys who are willing to do things that donít show up in those metrics. And how they are in the room, what they do they mean to teammates, metrics canít measure that."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper noted Girardiís willingness to sacrifice his body.

"That takes a lot of guts," Cooper said. "Not a lot of guys do that. (Detroit) was the perfect example. Heís been (great) for us on the penalty kill. Heís everything our team needs and has been a great get for us."

Girardi has played in 122 playoff games. Last season he battled through broken ribs in the postseason, as well as a lingering foot wound that cost him a month of the regular season after Ö blocking a shot. During the 2015 playoffs, when Girardi and the Rangers were beaten by the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference final, Girardi played through a serious MCL sprain. Thatís what he does. But can Girardiís body withstand another long season? He says it will.

The Rangers come to Tampa next Thursday. Girardi said he isnít looking for payback. Still Ö

The Rangers come to Tampa next Thursday. Girardi said he isnít looking for payback. Still Ö

"Theyíre basically saying they donít want you anymore," Girardi said of the buyout. "Itís a business. I wasnít happy about it. Right away, youíre mad. But I had a great run in New York, a great time. Now you turn the page."

Girardi and New York went to the Stanley Cup final in 2014, losing to Los Angeles. The Lightning beat the Rangers to make the final in 2015, falling to Chicago.

"Iíve been close. This team has been close," Girardi said. "Maybe we can get there together."

Itís worth a shot. Or blocking one.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029