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Amid trade rumors, Callahan sticks it to Avs

NEW YORK -- Ryan Callahan heard the crowd’s response when he scored Tuesday night in the Rangers’ 5-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche, and the usually stoic captain didn’t even pretend otherwise.

Instead, he smiled when talking about the cheers that erupted when he scored his first of two goals in a stellar three-point effort that led the Blueshirts to their fourth straight win.

“It’s part of playing in New York,” Callahan said, referencing the “mystique” of Madison Square Garden. “That’s why you love it here.”

It was a welcome respite from the rampant trade speculation Callahan has dealt with for the past week in the midst of a contract stalemate with the organization.

Without an agreement in place on an extension for the 28-year-old winger, the Rangers have been exploring the trade market for Callahan -- a revelation that set the entire NHL abuzz and would’ve sent many other players reeling.

But not Callahan, who has been poised and professional in dealing with what is both a difficult and delicate situation. Off the ice, he has been lauded by his teammates for being able to separate his individual dilemma from the team’s main objective. On the ice, he keeps plugging away as the team’s heart-and-soul leader, the type of player who sacrifices himself for the guy sitting next to him on the bench.

“It’s nice to see. He deserves it,” said Brian Boyle. “He’s our leader. He’s a great teammate, a great player and you expect big things from him.”

During a first period in which the Rangers absolutely dominated play, pouncing on an Avalanche team that played one night prior, Callahan scored twice in the opening frame.

After converting an odd-man rush at 14:16 of the first period, Callahan tallied from the slot with 2:25 to go for a 2-0 lead on the Avs, who entered the game on a four-game winning streak.

With the pair of first-period markers, Callahan now has 11 goals and 24 points on the season. But that doesn’t even begin to define his worth.

“It’s kind of tough to measure that,” Boyle said. “He kind of makes our team go, you know?

“We watch him play and he leads by example,” Boyle continued. “I’ve said many, many times, but coming in here and watching him play every day has made me become a better player.”

It would be hard to find fault in a guy for letting some of the persistent rumors seep in or allowing doubt to take hold with no shortage of opinions constantly debating his value to the team.

But the protracted contract negotiations haven’t seemed to rattle him. If they have, he hasn’t shown much evidence.

“He wants to contribute and it’s not easy going through these things,” said veteran captain Brad Richards, who finished the night with a goal and two assists. “Financially, we’re lucky to do what we do, but it is part of the business. Sometimes, it’s unfortunate when you have to go through it, but he’s been professional with it.”

Callahan’s inspired performance, in which his energetic and rugged style of play was evident against one of the hottest teams in the league, made it hard to wonder if he wasn’t channeling some of that outside fodder for his own benefit.

Callahan admitted that the 60 minutes he spends on the ice during the game is, at least mentally, the easiest part of his week.

“That’s where I want to be,” he said, “on the ice playing for the Rangers.”

Though the possibility remains for the two sides to reach a deal, there is a significant bridge to gap with the Rangers offering a five-year deal worth $30 million, and Callahan reportedly seeking a seven-year term with an annual average value of between $6.5 million and $7 million.

With Friday’s Olympic roster freeze quickly approaching, Callahan may soon have some clarity.

Until then, he’ll continue to fulfill his responsibility, leading by example and staying above the fray.

Said Boyle:

“That’s why he’s the captain.”