Duo forms Rangers building block

Rangers defencemen Ryan McDonagh (left) and Dan Girardi make up the club's top defensive pairing....

Rangers defencemen Ryan McDonagh (left) and Dan Girardi make up the club's top defensive pairing. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters file photo)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:19 PM ET

NEWARK - He would like to tell you he's a genius with foresight, that he knew this was going to happen, but then John Tortorella would have to acknowledge that he lied, too.

The New York Rangers defence pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi was born out of necessity when Marc Staal missed the first three months of the 2011-12 season with a concussion.

With the Rangers leading the New Jersey Devils 1-0 in the Eastern Conference final, the McDonagh-Girardi duo has developed into the Rangers' best, whether it's defending against the opposition's top players or providing offence every so often.

"If any coach tells you that he knows this will work, he's lying," Tortorella said Tuesday, referring generally to trying players together for the first time. "Because we don't. You try it and you make a judgment and hopefully your judgment is the correct one."

Tortorella's judgment was bang on with McDonagh and Girardi, who play more than 27 minutes a game, more than any other pair still competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Girardi has nine points and leads the NHL with 54 blocked shots, while McDonagh has just one point but is second with 42 blocks.

The Rangers wouldn't be where they are without star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but they might be in nearly as much trouble without the hard-nosed Girardi and the speedy McDonagh on the blue line.

"He's such a good skater it makes my job pretty easy out there," said the 28-year-old Girardi, who won a Memorial Cup with the London Knights in 2005 and signed as a free agent with the Rangers in 2006. "It's just our mix. I'm more of a stay-at-home (type) and get the puck up to forwards, and he likes to get in the rush.

"It just seemed to jell. I really couldn't tell you why. I think it's just kind of read off each other from the beginning and talking on and off the ice."

That, apparently, is an important factor. Where many NHL players will scatter once their work duties are done and don't see their teammates again until the next practice or game, Girardi and McDonagh, 22, hang out together.

McDonagh was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in June 2009 -- a deal the Habs must regret more every day -- with the Rangers giving up Scott Gomez.

"He's a family man and he's a father now, but we have a lot of fun, too, away from the rink," McDonagh said of Girardi. "We go out to eat a lot. He's just such a free-going guy. But when he comes to the rink, he gets down to business. He's a great leader in that aspect."

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

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