During the intermission between the third period and overtime of Wednesday’s opening game of the Stanley Cup Finals, the New York Rangers had to feel lucky.
The team had jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead over the Los Angeles Kings, only to squander it soon after. But, despite letting the Kings back in the game, the Rangers had to be thankful they could hold on for overtime. How else would you describe a club who got outshot 20-3 in the third period? Thanks to goalie Henrik Lundqvist, the score at the end of the regulation remained 2-2, and not 15-2. New York could take a breath and hit the ice in overtime looking to bounce back from a rough third period.
However, four minutes into the extra frame, all of that luck fell apart. Justin Williams put a puck past Lundqvist to give L.A. a 1-0 series lead, and it was all thanks to a bad turnover from Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. The recently resigned blue-liner practically spoon-fed Williams the puck, who had all the time and space needed to send Kings fans home happy. It was a big-time fumble, and you have to wonder if Girardi will be able to move on from it and be ready for Game 2.
First of all, as bad as Girardi’s turnover was, he wasn’t the only reason New York lost Game 1. You can’t give up a 2-0 lead and respond with such a low amount of shots on net. It’s a team effort, and for some reason, the Rangers didn’t really show up as a team in the third.
That said, you also can’t polish over Girardi’s mistake. Nor can you look past the fact that he’s struggled more often than not throughout the playoffs. His postseason possession numbers are among the lowest on the team, and they weren’t helped by the gift he gave Williams in overtime. He’s no doubt heard about it almost every minute since it occurred, but will it affect his game moving on?
Girardi’s been in the league for seven years now, so you know he’s seen plenty of the ups and downs which come from playing in the NHL. That said, this is his first time playing in the Cup Finals. Being four wins away from the league’s greatest prize is already enough pressure. Combine it with being responsible for the crucial turnover that gave your opponent a series lead, well, that certainly doesn’t help ease the anxiety.
What’s a little more concerning is the fact Girardi is playing heavy minutes this postseason, averaging about 23 minutes of ice time per game. He’s also doing so against the opposing team’s better players. This means, if a mistake is made, you’re turning it over to top-line talent more often than not. Something like this doesn’t help your chances of winning the Stanley Cup.
For what it’s worth, his teammates continue to support him. Both Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin have defended Girardi, saying mistakes like this happen to everyone and that the veteran d-man has likely already moved past it.
This may very well be the case. If you’re the type of player who can’t overcome a bad mistake, you won’t make it far in the NHL. At the same time, there’s a huge difference between committing a brain fart in the regular season and doing so on the league’s grand stage. The latter is likely to have a much more lasting effect, especially with how difficult it is to get to the Cup Finals in the first place.
For the Rangers, they better hope Girardi has indeed shaken it off. If he hasn’t, the team is dealing with a defenseman who’s doubting himself while also going up against some of the Kings’ best players.