'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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After throwing away a two-goal first period lead, the Rangers and Hurricanes headed into overtime tied 3-3. At that point, the Rangers' playoff fate was uncertain and things weren't going their way in Raleigh or on the out-of-town scoreboard. The Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens were tied 1-1 at MTS Centre.
As overtime got underway, the Blueshirts were buried in their own end until Derek Stepan's pass into the neutral zone sprung captain Ryan Callahan.
Callahan chased the puck along the boards, deftly made his own space and moved the puck onto his forehand before releasing a shot that beat Dan Ellis and allowed New Yorkers to finally take a deep breath of relief. After a bizarre season of struggles, key injuries and a major trade deadline facelift, the Rangers were finally playoff bound.
Thanks to the captain's clutch playoff-clinching goal, there would be no scoreboard watching on Thursday night. It wouldn't matter that the Canadiens eventually went on to beat the Jets, 4-2. Callahan had punched the Rangers' playoff ticket in style.
With their playoff ticket punched, it doesn't matter that this team failed to meet regular-season expectations. It doesn't matter how ugly the Rangers have looked at certain points during the shortened 2013 season. All that matters is that the Blueshirts will be one of eight Eastern Conference teams competing in the Stanley Cup Finals.
CALLAHAN THINKS RANGERS WILL BE DANGEROUS IN PLAYOFFS
The playoffs are a different animal, and the Rangers are hungry like the wolf. Callahan had determination in his eyes and his celebrated ecstatically while speaking to MSG's John Giannone.
"The character of this team, we've been fighting all year," Callahan said. "We're up and down, and now we're in the playoffs -- and that's all that matters. It's a new season now. We take this last two weeks, we've been playing good hockey into the playoffs and we'll be a dangerous team."
Rangers head coach John Tortorella thought his team received a bit of luck from "the hockey gods" on Brad Richards' strange tying goal that took a strange bounce off the end boards and past the Canes' net-minder. Tortorella felt it was fitting that Callahan was the man whose goal ensured a third consecutive season of playoff hockey at Madison Square Garden.
"We just kept on playing, scored an ugly one and (it) couldn't be more fitting than the guy who scored the winner," Tortorella said. "Funny how the hockey gods work in these type of situations."
Callahan always seems to be the man who thrives in moments when the pressure is cranked to the highest. It's not a coincidence if you perform under pressure time and time again.
CALLAHAN'S BATTLE LEVEL IS UNMATCHED
You can question Callahan's talent, but you can never question his battle level. If most hockey players turn their intensity level up to 10. Callahan breaks off the knob and pushes it to 11. That's the kind of player he is, that's the kind of irreplaceable leader he is.
The Rangers' captain will never win the Hart Trophy or the Art Ross Trophy. He doesn't possess the flashy skills of an Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane or physically-gifted teammate Rick Nash. For the most part, his goals aren't highlight material. He likes to get his nose dirty. His goals are forged by pure effort and unrivaled determination.
Yes, the Hart Trophy will never be resting on his mantle. Perhaps he will one day earn the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and more importantly receive the Stanley Cup at center ice at MSG, lifting it into the heavens in front of 17,200 screaming fans who've waited since that magical year of 1994 for another visit from Lord Stanley.
Callahan's will is the kind that gets teammates to push themselves beyond barriers they knew existed.
Last year in the playoffs, the Rangers overachieved by coming within a Game 6 overtime of forcing an all-deciding Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. This year, the Rangers have pieced things together as the season has gone along. There's plenty of new faces that had to settle, but this Rangers group is stronger than in years past.
It's just a matter of everything coming together. When the Rangers begin the playoffs, they will not have home-ice advantage and will face either two dominant teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins or Boston Bruins or the surging Washington Capitals. Don't count out Callahan and the Rangers pulling off a first-round upset.
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