Lightning’s Dan Girardi, the human shot-stoppper

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TAMPA — He’s 33, and there are days when he feels older. He plays in the fastest game going, and he isn’t very fast. That doesn’t 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 Detroit’s 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 can’t really think about it, because if you think, you’ll go, ‘Here it comes. It’s going to hurt.’ "

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 Tuesday’s win at Carolina.

Dan Girardi didn’t score. He doesn’t have a point this season. But he has helped the Lightning’s back line early this season, nothing flashy — a Girardi staple, defenseman’s 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 doesn’t hurt to motivate you."

Consider that the New York Rangers bought out Girardi’s contract after last season, or that analytics are Girardi’s 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 I’m like the worst guy for all these analytics," he said. "I don’t much care. I’m a team-first guy. I’m going to keep it really simple. I’m 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 Girardi’s teammate in New York, said, "To win championships, you need guys who are willing to do things that don’t show up in those metrics. And how they are in the room, what they do they mean to teammates, metrics can’t measure that."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper noted Girardi’s 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. He’s been (great) for us on the penalty kill. He’s 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 … 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. That’s what he does. But can Girardi’s body withstand another long season? He says it will.

The Rangers come to Tampa next Thursday. Girardi said he isn’t looking for payback. Still …

The Rangers come to Tampa next Thursday. Girardi said he isn’t looking for payback. Still …

"They’re basically saying they don’t want you anymore," Girardi said of the buyout. "It’s a business. I wasn’t happy about it. Right away, you’re 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.

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

It’s worth a shot. Or blocking one.

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

 
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