Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
PHILADELPHIA - Claude Giroux, Flyers captain, team leader and top scorer, was asked before Game 3 if he'd prefer to have more shifts without Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh opposite him.
"What do you think?" Giroux asked with a grin. Giroux managed to get his first shot on goal of the series in the second period of Tuesday night's Game 3, which meant he had as many shots on goal as chokeholds on McDonagh's throat in the series -- Giroux did that in Game 2 Sunday, so his karate moves were a bit ahead of his offense.
McDonagh is only 24, but his spot as the Rangers' most important defenseman has never been in doubt. It was cemented even more in the breath-holding reaction to his being smeared along the boards by the Canucks' Alex Burrows in the waning seconds of the Rangers win April 1 in Vancouver, knocking him out of the team's final four regular-season games with a shoulder injury.
He didn't play again until Game 1 of this series Thursday, and frankly, some rust has shown. He turned the puck over on Scott Hartnell's hit in Game 1 that led to a Flyers goal. He was uncharacteristically beaten with speed by Jake Voracek for the big Flyers goal in the first period of Game 2 that started to turn that one in Philly's favor.
And Tuesday night, McDonagh had a jittery moment with the puck during a four-on-four sequence that eventually led to the Flyers' goal that again, as on Sunday, cut into a 2-0 Rangers lead.
McDonagh said before Game 3 that he has no issues physically. "It's just getting myself prepared mentally," he said.
The Rangers can live with a few mistakes. He played more than 50 minutes in the first two games and, with the home side having the last line change, played all but a handful of his 59 shifts against Giroux's line. Marc Staal jumped in to play the left side with Dan Girardi on occasion, but McDonagh gets his 23-27 minutes a game regardless.
"They're a good top pair," Voracek said. "I don't know, [Zdeno] Chara and [Johnny] Boychuk in Boston are pretty good, too. But these guys are good. Sometimes you can carry the puck in against some teams, but the Rangers try to stand you up at the line so you have to try and do other things."
The Flyers had the last change Tuesday night, but it hardly seemed to matter to either coach. "We have two defense pairs we feel confident putting out against their top offensive guys," Alain Vigneault said.
"We'll get our guys out there when we can," Craig Berube said.
No coach wants to tip his hand on matchups, but both coaches were fairly true to their vague words Tuesday night: McDonagh had a few shifts opposite Giroux, including the one on which Mark Streit scored, but both teams seemed content to play without much mind to matching defensemen against forward lines.
The volume of discussion out of the Flyers room regarding McDonagh would have seemed to be a win for the Rangers. Perhaps they were offering great praise to get the Rangers thinking too much, but it seemed to work against Philly yet again Tuesday night.
Giroux and Voracek had assists on Streit's goal, but that line was otherwise invisible except for Voracek's decisive fight victory over Carl Hagelin in the flyweight category.
Meanwhile, Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan had two goals in the opening 10 minutes of the game.
McDonagh said it best prior to Game 3. "It doesn't matter who you're out there against," he said. "You've got to win your battles."
He's lost a couple so far this series, but the Rangers are winning the war.