Rangers realize they have a special leader in small but mighty Ryan Callahan

It was all there for all to see in the opening 20 minutes. Everything the New York Rangers missed about Ryan Callahan from last year’s brief, unsuccessful playoff stay. Everything Ryan Callahan brings to the table. No surprise, then, that Callahan, who embodies the Rangers more than anyone else, set the tone for New York’s 4-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 1 on Thursday night.

Rangers realize they have a special leader in small but mighty Ryan Callahan
It's no surprise that Ryan Callahan, who embodies the Rangers more than anyone else, set the tone for New York’s 4-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 1 on Thursday night.

By Arthur Staples, Newsday

NEW YORK — It was all there for all to see in the opening 20 minutes. Everything the New York Rangers missed about Ryan Callahan from last year’s brief, unsuccessful playoff stay. Everything Ryan Callahan brings to the table.

No surprise, then, that Callahan, who embodies the Rangers more than anyone else, set the tone for New York’s 4-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 1 on Thursday night.
The Rangers have flashier players, they have tougher players and they have a goaltender who is their most important player every game he plays.

But they do not have a leader on par with their captain. Not even close.

In Mark Messier, the Rangers have had perhaps the greatest captain who ever donned an NHL sweater, and Messier was the leader and player he was because he didn’t just score timely goals or deliver timely hits. He did everything, usually within the same game, especially at this time of year.

The 27-year-old Callahan had just such a first period against Ottawa Thursday. He bulled his way to get position on Senators defenceman Filip Kuba, found a rebound and spun around with a pinpoint shot, just inside the left post, to bring relief into a loud but tight Madison Square Garden crowd.

That was at 12:01. Six minutes later, Callahan took a few purposeful strides into the Ottawa zone and crunched former teammate Matt Gilroy into the end boards. More roars.

Peeling off to backcheck, Callahan stopped in his tracks at centre ice to put a shoulder into Jesse Winchester’s chest, separating the Senators forward from the puck. More roars, this time followed by chants of “Cally! Cally! Cally!”

“He was a monster out there,” Brian Boyle said after practice Friday. “Big goal, throwing his body around, couple open-ice hits. Just a monster for us. There was no way anybody was letting him down. We all just raised our games because of him.”

Callahan never got to experience any of it last season. As the Rangers fought and clawed to reach the playoffs, Callahan was doing whatever it took. What it took late on April 4 at the Garden was to try to get a piece of Zdeno Chara’s 105-mph slap shot.

Callahan fearlessly did what was needed, but his ankle was broken. The Rangers made the postseason, but their leader wasn’t there. And the playoffs were a short stay.

“He’s such a big part of everything we do,” coach John Tortorella said of Callahan, whose recovery from the broken ankle culminated in being named captain just before training camp started.

For a man who plays such a big role, the American-born Callahan is not a big guy, standing 5-10 and weighing 185 pounds.

Instead of wearing the “C’’ heavily and awkwardly, Callahan continued to lead the way. His 88 blocked shots were third-most among NHL forwards this season, and he had nine game-winning goals among his 29.

He threw himself in front of Erik Karlsson’s power-play rip with 5:15 to go in the second period of a 1-0 game, blocking the blast with his back. The Rangers, clinging to the lead through much of the second, broke free with two late goals in the period to get some breathing room.

“That’s why he wears the ‘C,’ “ Dan Girardi said Friday. “His style of game, it’s perfect for the playoffs. He just does all the stuff it takes to win.
“He’s our guy, our leader.”

With files from The Associated Press

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