- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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With their recent playoff-clinching win against New Jersey, the Rangers could've coasted. They could've turned on auto-pilot and tuned out. They could've allowed themselves a brief respite in the little time remaining before what they hope to be a long postseason run.
They didn't. They won’t.
In their first game since securing a berth in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Rangers displayed the same resolve that paved their way to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, where they remain after a 2-1 overtime win against the Red Wings.
"It's a good group. It's a group that competes every night," said coach John Tortorella, who earlier in the day admitted he was "thrilled" with his team's performance this season.
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Ryan Callahan celebrated his 27th birthday with his 27th goal of the season.
Captain Ryan Callahan, the very embodiment of the team's relentless, blue-collar work ethic, boosted the team to its second straight win. After an outstanding two-way effort, the gritty winger was rewarded with his 27th goal of the season on his 27th birthday.
Callahan ripped a wrist shot past Red Wings goaltender Ty Conklin with 2:18 to play as the Rangers handed the Wings their sixth straight loss.
"It was a good birthday gift," said Callahan, who was miffed he missed on an open-net opportunity in the second period. "I had to respond back."
Callahan was all over the ice, particularly late in the game, to lead the team past the injury-decimated Wings. Whether it was a hard back-check to thwart a short-handed rush or a key shot block late in the third, Callahan set example after example of the hustle that has made the Rangers so dangerous and successful.
"He just had an unbelievable third period and overtime," Tortorella said. "It's fitting that he scored the game-winner."
Fitting also that the Rangers have been vigilant in the face of yet another challenge. Instead of shrinking from the responsibility of retaining the top spot in the East, they have embraced it.
After fighting so hard to squeak into the playoffs in recent history -- their postseason fate was decided on the last day of the regular season in the previous two years -- the Rangers seem to relish being in the driver's seat.
With their win over the Red Wings, the Broadway Blueshirts restored a three-point lead in the East over the idle Pittsburgh Penguins, who have recorded a point in each of their last 13 games.
"Since I've been here, it's been scratch and claw just to get in. It takes a lot out of the team when you're playing that desperate for that long," defenseman Marc Staal said. "It's definitely nice to be able to clinch as early as we have, but at the same time, we have to keep looking to get better and finish at the top of the East."
While that feat appeared precarious last week, when the Rangers were dropped 5-2 by the scorching Penguins, it looks much more manageable should the Rangers keep playing this way.
Instead of relenting, they've pushed ahead. And it looks like that will continue.
"They are attentive. They have grown up," Tortorella said. "It's an easy group to like because they push hard. I don't think they care what circumstances are put in front of them."
37dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald