Last night at the Garden, in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Devils, Callahan was the best player on the ice just about every time his skates came over the boards. But he was only one man, and after a 5-3 loss, his team now stares elimination in the face for the third time in as many playoff series, down 3-2 in this Battle of the Hudson.
“We’ve just got to win one game,” Callahan said. “We’ve been in this situation in the Ottawa series. We’ve just got to win one road game.”
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CHECK YOURSELF: Ryan Callahan sends Marek Zidlicky into the boards during last night’s 5-3 Devils victory in Game 5 at the Garden.
That Ottawa series was the first time Callahan and his Blueshirts faced a summer of watching instead of playing, losing that Game 5 in a similar fashion before going on to win Games 6 and 7 for their only consecutive victories within a series this postseason. That was followed by a seven-game series against the Capitals during which wins were alternated and the Rangers prevailed by winning Game 7 at home.
Now, with tomorrow night’s Game 6 at the Prudential Center, they are again on the edge, teetering with a history that will paint their rugged style of play — exemplified by Callahan — as too draining to sustain throughout a long playoff run.
“We’ve been good on the road all year,” Callahan said, who finished with a game-high six hits. “We’ll go in there and try to win a game and bring it back here.”
In the first period, with his team having given up three goals in the first 10 minutes, it was Callahan’s new line with Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky that began to fight back. The small change in momentum resulted in a breakaway goal for Brandon Prust, who cut the lead to 3-1 as the first period ended.
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“There wasn’t too much said in the room,” Callahan said about the first intermission. “We knew the situation we were in. We knew we had to try to claw our way back, and we did that.”
It started with Callahan, the 27-year-old from Rochester in his first season with the ‘C’ on his sweater, as he charged to the goal just 32 seconds into the second period and managed to redirect an Anisimov centering feed off his skate and past Martin Brodeur.
The play was reviewed to see if Callahan had kicked it in, but when the goal was upheld, the Devils’ lead was sliced to 3-2. As he has so many times this season, Callahan had the Garden fans standing and cheering in full voice.
“He played well,” coach John Tortorella said. “He found a way to score a goal.”
Three minutes later, while on the power play, Callahan muscled his way to a loose puck just left of the crease, Brodeur down on the ice after stopping a hard low shot from Brad Richards.
With the gaping net in front of him, just a flick of the wrist away from tying the game, Callahan corralled the puck on his backhand and lifted it high.
The ding from the crossbar was loud enough to hear near the Garden roof, and for the guy who hasn’t scored an even-strength goal with an opposing goalie in net since the first game of the playoffs, Lady Luck kept him that close from full-on hero status.
“He did all the things you need to do as a leader to try and get us a win, right to the bitter end,” Tortorella said. “He’ll do the same thing next game.”
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