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Girardi ready for new beginning with Lightning

By Corey Long, NHL.com

TAMPA, Fla. — Defenseman Dan Girardi wasn’t sure if there still was a place for him in the NHL after the remaining three years of his contract were bought out by the New York Rangers on June 14.

Girardi, 33, then received a phone call from Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who expressed interest in bringing him to the Lightning. He was also recruited by Lightning forward Ryan Callahan, his teammate with the Rangers from 2006-14 and with whom he has a friendship since their days playing together for Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League.

He signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Lightning on July 1 and said Monday that he’s looking forward to a reunion with Callahan and a change of scenery after 11 seasons with the Rangers.

“It’s going to be fun to start playing with him again,” Girardi said. “Obviously he was selling hard and I bought it in the end. He and his wife have been great helping us out, telling us where to go in Tampa and trying to figure out schools for the kids.

“[Yzerman] called me and that really meant a lot to me. He pretty much talked for 20 minutes of how he wanted me here, how great their team was. I was pretty much sold, but we had to play a little hardball.”

Girardi said he’s eager for the chance to help the Lightning return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after they finished one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They came close to earning a postseason berth despite center Steven Stamkos missing the final 65 games because of a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee and Callahan recovering from hip surgery that limited him to 18 games.

“You lose a guy like Stamkos and a heart-and-soul guy like Callahan and it’s tough to recover from that,” Girardi said. “But this team has a lot of potential and a lot of great young players.

“It’s a great team here. They have had lot of success in the past and I’m sure they’re going to be just as good this year. It’s going to be a little different stepping out there the first time, but it will definitely be fun.”

The Lightning hope the additions of Girardi and forward Chris Kunitz, who signed a one-year contract July 1, will make them a tougher team defensively with a more abrasive attitude. Both bring a lot of experience; Kunitz is a four-time Stanley Cup winner and Girardi has appeared in 122 postseason games.

“That’s why I came here,” Girardi said. “I want to help this team. [The Lightning] didn’t make the playoffs last year so they are extremely hungry. Obviously being bought out makes me [hungrier] to show I can still play and contribute.”

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