OTTAWA -- When walking through the media-designated doors here at ScotiaBank Place earlier this evening, I was having trouble locating the locker rooms in the winding tunnels underneath the arena. You'd think the locker rooms would have some sort of bold sign outside to make them easily accessible, but that wasn't the case. Anyway, I was getting towards the end of the tunnel when Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Dan Girardi and Carl Hagelin all came walking in as a pack (picture). They obviously knew where they were going, so I joined the herd.
The first player I was able to speak with was Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who had just finished showing Flyers forward Scott Hartnell the extra padding the Blueshirts put in their gloves in order to prevent hand injuries when blocking shots. Yes, a Ranger and a Flyer were actually conversing in the locker room.
I first asked Girardi what has made the Rangers such a consistent hockey team this season, which I asked all of the Rangers I had the chance to chat with.
"Everyone kind of buying into our system," Girardi said. "Torts [John Tortorella] puts together a gameplan for us, and when we do it right and play good defensively, we're gonna get the wins and that's obviously why we're at the top right now in the East. We have a defense-first mentality and let the offense take care of itself later."
I then asked Girardi to talk about what it means to be here with the league's best in the midst of a career year, and also to be able to bring his family along with him...
"It means a lot obviously," he said. "It means a lot for the Rangers and my family - they'll be here tonight and tomorrow. It's a great honor to be here with all of these great players because I never thought I'd be here. I'm gonna enjoy every moment of it."
The last topic I had Girardi comment on was the play of his partner in New York, Ryan McDonagh, and how Ryan's play makes his job a tad easier...
"He's stepped in with Staalsy [Marc Staal] being out and he's done a good job for us. He has a lot of skill and has stepped up his game for us for sure."
I then moved down the row of lockers where Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin was sitting and just admiring the atmosphere in the Senators' home locker room. My first question to him was, going into the season, if he ever had envisioned himself having as big of an impact in New York as he has, or even being a part of All-Star Weekend for that matter...
"No, no," he said laughingly. "This season I was prepared to play in the A [AHL] to start out, and hopefully get a couple games in the NHL. I didn't expect to play this many games and especially not to be here. It's pretty incredible."
He then spoke about what's made him so successful at the NHL level this season, and the key to his game...
"I just try to use my speed," Hagelin said. "I've been fortunate to play with good guys and we keep winning - I think that's key. When I came up we went on a winning streak and the coach normally doesn't want to change a winning team, so that's key."
Finally, out of personal curiosity, I had to ask him how it was playing in the Winter Classic as a rookie for the Rangers...
"It was incredible. Being around the cameras there for a month and then playing outdoors and getting a win being down 2-0, it was pretty amazing. You kinda miss having HBO around."
Also, I was the first to tell Hagelin of all the great comments head coach John Tortorella has made about him in the media. He said he doesn't really read articles online, so this was the first time he was hearing of them. As I said them, Carl's smile grew into a huge grin. Pretty cool stuff.
And last but not least, I headed over to the locker room of Team Chara, where Rangers forward Marian Gaborik sat preparing his equipment. I spoke with Gabby about his lackluster season with the Rangers last year, and asked what's changed in his game this year that has brought him success...
"This year I feel pretty good physically," Gabby said. "We have a very strong team and a very balanced team, so hopefully we can keep it up."
Which then led me to my next question about what's made the club so consistent this season...
"Everything. Great goaltending, all four lines are contributing so there's perfect balance on our team."
From there I asked Gabby about his linemate Derek Stepan, and the chemistry those two have developed...
"He's matured as a hockey player," said Marian. "He's young and he keeps improving, so it's been fun."
Before leaving, I asked if he and Hank had a bet going for this weekend yet...
"Not yet, but we have to work something out."
Check back after tonight's Skills Competition for more quotes from the locker rooms. Hopefully I get comments from Henrik Lundqvist and John Tortorella, who were unavailable beforehand.
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