Callahan leads Lightning past Hurricanes on his birthday

Lightning veteran’s last two goals have been game-winners, including Thursday’s
Tampa Bay Lightning's Ryan Callahan (24) reacts following his goal against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney (35) while Hurricanes' Trevor van Riemsdyk (57) and Warren Foegele (13) defend during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Tampa Bay Lightning's Ryan Callahan (24) reacts following his goal against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney (35) while Hurricanes' Trevor van Riemsdyk (57) and Warren Foegele (13) defend during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Published March 21
Updated March 23

RALEIGH, N.C. — Ryan Callahan picked a good way to celebrate his birthday: a game-winning goal.

Callahan turned 34 on Thursday. Most people hope for a day off on their birthdays. Callahan was in the opposite position, happy to return to the lineup.

He was even happier to score the key goal.

“He’s a guy who works hard every day, a huge team guy, and a game winner,” Brayden Point said after the 6-3 win over Carolina. “It’s awesome to see. He and his line played great all night, great to see him get rewarded.

Callahan, who hadn’t played since a 3-2 win over Detroit on March 9, had a shaving cream pie for Point on his March 13 birthday. Point did not return the favore on Thursday – Callahan has seniority.

The Lightning got two more goals (a power-play goal from Point and an empty-netter by Ryan McDonagh), but midway through the third period, the game was tied 3-3. The Lightning and Hurricanes had traded leads throughout the game.

Callahan tried to drive through the zone and take some Hurricanes to the ice to create space. When he saw J.T. Miller pass to Victor Hedman at the point, Callahan made his way to the post, at Curtis McElhinney ‘s back door.

“Unbelievable vision by Heddy,” Callahan said. “We made a little bit of eye contact and I knew it was coming. I just had to put my stick down and tap it in.”

Callahan called it a “pretty big goal at that point in the game.” His last two goals (six games apart) were game winners. He also scored the difference-maker in what turned out to be a 5-2 win over Florida.

Both games were the second half of back-to-backs, which have been a go-to for getting Callahan in the lineup.

“We’re so happy for him,” said Anthony Cirelli, who scored early in the third to tie the game 3-3. “He’s just a great guy to have in the room. He’s a great leader. He’s fun to be around. He’s always making jokes, making guys laugh. He’s an unbelievable person.”

He has played seven games since being told he was the thirteenth forward coming out of the All-Star break, but Callahan has continued to have a presence on this team.

It’s hard mentally to be in and out of the lineup. It’s thus hard to have an impact when you make those sporadic appearances. For the most part, Callahan has been able to do that.

“This is what he does for us,” Jon Cooper said after his 500th career game and 300th win. “He gives us energy. It’s a huge goal for us. He’s kept himself ready for times like this when we’ve needed him. And he delivered.”

He credited Callahan’s efforts to always keep himself in “unreal shape,” and continue working at his game. Cooper said that’s the reason guys have long careers like Callahan has.

Callahan, known for some emphatic celebrations, followed Thursday’s goal with a big fist pump. It was a nice way to cap off the birthday.

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