Ryan Callahan was named captain of the New York Rangers before the 2011-2012 season. That year the defensive-minded and shot blocking group surprised a lot of people and finished the regular season with 109 points; good for first place in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers of 2011-2012, to me, have a lot of similarities to the way the Columbus Blue Jackets play today. The Rangers were a tough team to play against.
The best quality of that team, according to Coach John Tortorella, was how hard they played. With players like Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Prust, and Callahan, it is clear why that edition of the Rangers played that style and had success. They were a bunch of hardworking grinders that were also skilled. The team went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals; the first time a Rangers team advanced that far since the ’90s. The season ended with a loss to rival New Jersey in 6 games.
The following season the team was overpowered in the second round by the Boston Bruins. In 2013-2014, the Rangers had a new look and a more open style of play under coach Alain Vigneault. In March of 2014, the team traded their captain Callahan to Tampa Bay for Lightning captain Martin St. Louis. We all know what happened next. The Rangers went on to the Stanley Cup Final and the Lightning were swept in Round 1. For Callahan, watching that playoff run was bittersweet and motivated him to get there someday himself.
Motivation and Resigning in Tampa
In a recent article by Dan Rosen from NHL.com, Callahan talked about what it was like to watch the team he captained through most of 2013-2014 have that type of playoff success.
“It was hard there’s no question. That’s where I grew up, where I started, captain of the team. It was very tough for me to leave the organization, but I couldn’t have landed in a better spot. I’m very happy here in Tampa.”
Callahan was impressed with what he saw in his brief time with Tampa Bay during the 2013-2014 regular season. So much so that the Rochester, New York native did not test free agency on July 1st this past summer. He agreed in June to a six-year, $34.8 million extension. He knew the team had a bright future and wanted to be apart of it.
The first captain for captain trade in NHL history favored the Lightning. Not only is Callahan in his prime but the team also ended up with not one but two first round picks from the deal.
Furtheremore, it has been well documented by now that Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman were influenced by Callahan to join the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stralman has been incredibly good with this team. As a result, it has allowed Victor Hedman to take his game to the next level. Callahan is also a leader and is now an assistant captain on the Lightning. In his first full season in Tampa Bay, Callahan matched a career-high 54 points with 24 goals and 30 assists. His ferocious forecheck, shot blocking, grit and 100% effort, every shift mentality was something the Rangers appeared to have missed in the Eastern Conference Final.
Callahan’s Early Playoff Struggles
While Callahan was still a forechecking machine and an important player to Tampa, he struggled offensively in the first three rounds of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Still, Callahan brought his ‘intangibles’ to the table. He hits, blocks shots, goes hard to the net, and outworks most players on the ice. Callahan did not score in Round 1 against the Red Wings, but did tally three assists. Against the Canadiens in Round 2, he did not register a point. Then on May 11th he had an emergency appendectomy.
Callahan was out of the lineup for Game 6 against the Montreal Canadiens and it is noted that the Tampa Bay Lightning rallied around Callahan’s absence and wanted to win it for him. Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos spoke about Callahan to Bryan Burns, Tampa’s NHL.com beat writer:
“Cally’s been a warrior for us since he’s been here. We miss him out there for sure, but we had his name up on the board before the game as a little inspiration and guys stepped up.”
After getting an appendix removed, someone could be in the hospital for a decent amount of time, depending on the severity. Callahan was back practicing for the Lightning three days later and was in the lineup for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against his former team the New York Rangers.
Callahan appeared not to be 100% to start the series but his game got better as the series went along. He scored his first goal of the playoffs in Game 6 against longtime teammate Henrik Lundqvist on a breakaway. Callahan made a quick move to the backhand and put the puck into the back of the net.
Tampa lost Game 6 but went on to win Game 7 2-0 for the series win; their third win at Madison Square Garden in the Conference Finals. Finally, with a chance of his own to play for the Stanley Cup, Callahan saved his best hockey of the playoffs for the Stanley Cup Final.
Callahan, Paquette and Brown Taking Over Cup Final
In the Stanley Cup Final, one of the best lines for either team has been the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 3rd line. Rookie Cedric Paquette is centering Callahan and grinder JT Brown. The line completely shut down superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Games 1-3 and they have put the puck in the net quite often.
Really strong forecheck by Ryan Callahan on zone entry leads to Paquette goal. Amalie Arena is jumping
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 6, 2015
In four games in the Cup Final, Callahan has one goal and three assists, Paquette has two goals and the game winning goal in Game 3, and Brown has an assist. When this line is rolling it gives the Lightning three legitimate scoring lines, and makes the Tampa offense very difficult to slow down.
Callahan and Lightning Owning the Moment
The Lightning right now are the perfect example of Bauer Hockey’s popular phrase “Own The Moment”. They have grown as a team this playoff run, without being phased by the pressure.
The Lightning know they belong in the Stanley Cup Final and are not intimidated by the Chicago Blackhawks and all of their recent successes. The Lightning have defeated three original six teams in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and are just two wins away from shocking the hockey world and winning the Stanley Cup ahead of schedule. The Stanley Cup Final has become a best-of-3 with the Lightning having home ice advantage for Games 5 and a potential Game 7.
The Lightning have confidence, poise, and swagger right now and do not want to let any of it go. For Callahan, his on-ice play and will to win has been obvious, look for him to continue to be an impact player every night in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.
I am a 2015 graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey. I have coached ice hockey at the high school level for two seasons here in NJ. I will be covering the Toronto Maple Leafs moving forward for The Hockey Writers.