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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Grit puts Rangers in second round

The Rangers beat Ottawa, 2-1, in Game 7 Thursday night at the Garden to advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Videojournalists: Robert Cassidy, Anthony Castellano (April 26, 2012)

It was a signature win, a Game 7 victory that featured the talents that make this Rangers team as good as it is, not the sort of talents that you'd usually associate with a top seed.

The defining moment for John Tortorella did not come in the second period, when Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, the one-time shutdown defense pair with seven goals between them this season, scored 4:18 apart.

It was in the third, a two-minute stretch when the Rangers -- with Staal and Girardi on the ice, together again -- could not get the puck out of their own zone. When five tired skaters and one alert goaltender combined to preserve a 2-1 lead Thursday night, the clock winding down from six minutes to four, blue-shirted skaters throwing themselves at anything that moved.

"That was the true identity of our team right there," Tortorella said.

It is embodied in Girardi and Staal, two defensemen who define what Tortorella wants from his team.

Girardi is the undrafted free agent who was in the top five in the NHL in ice time this season, averaging 26:14 a night, a few minutes shy of half a game, every game, for all 82.

His goal proved to be the winner. His biggest play still was a blocked shot in the first, when he threw himself in front of Filip Kuba's shot with Henrik Lundqvist down.

Staal's goal, which opened the scoring, was a reminder of the sort of player he was becoming before his big brother Eric delivered a surprising hit in February 2011 that cost Marc the first 36 games of this season with concussion-like symptoms.

Marc Staal led everyone in ice time last night, playing 26:44 and blocking three shots.

"I'm getting more confidence out there and I've felt my legs coming back each game of this series," Staal said.

Girardi and Staal don't get the sort of league-wide love that higher-scoring defensemen do. Erik Karlsson, the Senators' speedy defenseman, got a Norris Trophy nomination Thursday morning, validation for a 78-point season.

But it was Karlsson who vacated his slot to allow Girardi to cruise in and beat Craig Anderson with the eventual winner.

As it happens, Girardi's four points this series dwarfed Karlsson's one. And Girardi's defense dwarfed Karlsson's, too.

There was very, very little that separated the Rangers and Senators. The Rangers blocked more shots, the Senators generated more chances and both teams beat the daylights out of one another -- legally and less so.

The difference, as Mike Rupp told his teammates before Game 7, was in the details. "A little play that can become a big play," Tortorella reported that Rupp said.

These Rangers excel at the details. Marian Gaborik was rendered ineffective yet again but still tried to chip pucks and cycle below the opposing goal line. Game 6 star Brad Richards was mostly silent Thursday night but won 10 of 16 faceoffs.

Michael Del Zotto, pulled off the power-play point, instead made it his mission to butt heads with Ottawa's Chris Neil.

This Game 7 was the Rangers' true identity, with Girardi and Staal leading the charge into the second round.

Just another game this season in which the Rangers' lunch-pailers carried the load. And because of that, there are more games to come.

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