Without Ryan Callahan, playoff run a tall order
It is more than a little ironic that the way in which the New York Rangers play the game may be what keeps them from advancing in the playoffs, assuming they make it at all.
A team whose reputation and identity this season has been forged on selflessness and the collective good will finish the regular season and begin the playoffs without the player who perhaps most embraces those qualities.
Monday's game was pure Rangers. They trailed Northeast Division-champion Boston by three midway through the second period, but battled back to win 5-3. Callahan collected an assist and 19:55 in ice time.
Although he missed 19 games with a broken hand earlier this season, Callahan leads the Rangers in power-play and game-winning goals and is second behind Brandon Dubinsky in goals, points and power-play points. With Callahan in the lineup, the Rangers are 32-25-3; they are 11-7-2 without him. After returning from the hand injury on Feb. 1, he led the team with 13 goals and 24 points in 27 games.
Rangers coach John Tortorella told reporters Monday that perhaps this will have a galvanizing effect on the Rangers. Yet this team has already been galvanized. The Rangers have remade themselves, and even when a period of uneven play threatened to topple their season, they held fast to the plan implemented by Tortorella and righted the ship.
In a recent interview with assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld, he told us the management team rarely gets upset with the players even when they lose because they are so hard on themselves. And that's how the Rangers have managed to stay in the hunt, by playing hard, relentless hockey.
We know it's a bit of a mug's game tallying stats like blocked shots, etc., but the Rangers are fourth in the league in the category. They are first in hits and Callahan is 12th overall in the NHL.
Callahan is who the Rangers are. And now, he is gone for the long haul, just when those qualities are sometimes the difference between a playoff appearance and a playoff run.
After Monday's emotional win versus Boston, the Rangers are in seventh in the East with just two games to play -- one point ahead of No. 8 Buffalo and four points up on No. 9 Carolina. Both Carolina and Buffalo have three games left. With games against two non-playoff teams, Atlanta and New Jersey, the Rangers should find their way to the postseason regardless of what the Hurricanes do.
Beyond that? Well, it was more than a stretch to consider this Rangers team was capable of knocking off any of the East's top three teams (Philadelphia, Boston or Washington) even though all three have injury issues and uncertainty of their own.
Without Callahan, though, that already tall order looks to be oak-tree tall.