The Rangers boast arguably one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL with Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh.
But to hear Rangers head coach John Tortorella tell it, he didn’t know what he had until he was forced to put the two together in December due to Michael Sauer’s concussion and Marc Staal’s absence because of post-concussion syndrome. Now, as the coach says, “[I’m] not sure if I’ll ever split those two guys up.”
“It’s funny how it works out when you end up with injuries,” Tortorella said after yesterday’s practice at Madison Square Garden in preparation for tonight’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals (8 p.m., NBC?Sports). “We always talk about when there’s injuries, another guy gets an opportunity. You never know where it’s going to lead you.
“So with Mack, the amount of time he got so quickly in key situations because of that injury has accelerated his process, where that may be a year down the road if we didn't have an injury,” Tortorella said. “So you never know how this works out.That's just the way it works, and that’s the interesting part when you have injuries — how things work out. You just have a feel.You watch it and you see if it does.And that’s what happened with Mack and Danny. It certainly was out of necessity.”
Girardi and McDonagh spent Game 1 successfully going head-to-head with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. The top pair each finished plus-two while Parise was minus-two and Kovalchuk was minus-one.
McDonagh made two spectacular defensive plays in the first period to keep the game scoreless. His backchecks on Parise and Kovalchuk breakaways eliminated Devils scoring opportunities. Even more impressively, he caught two of the league’s faster skaters and didn’t take a penalty.
“I’m lucky he’s such a good skater,” Girardi said. “Mack made a couple of good plays right off the bat. I think Mack did a good job of covering for me and making some good solid plays, and that helped me get past a couple of things.”
Potting the game-winning goal 53 seconds into the third period and assisting on Chris Kreider’s goal with eight minutes remaining didn’t hurt either.
“Danny’s great at recovering and blocking a shot or disrupting an odd-man rush.And he just gives you that much more confidence to join the rush and create and make your plays that way. And obviously learned a lot from him, how mentally tough he is.The grind that he goes through, the hits that he takes and the way he blocks shots,” McDonagh said. “He’s such a leader in that aspect, and it’s something that I’m trying to get involved in my game.
“But when the opportunity came, I was really ecstatic and knew how important it would be for me and Danny to play well, having Marc [Staal] out,” McDonagh said. “He’s such a huge part of our D corps back there.But it’s not just me that had to step up — Michael Del Zotto, and we found [Anton] Stralman and [Stu] Bickel has come along huge, too.So it was a whole collective group there. But it was just a great opportunity for everybody and everybody stepped up.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for all the latest news throughout the postseason.