Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Ryan Callahan swings momentum to Lightning

NEW YORK — The Islanders dominated the Lightning for most of Tuesday's first period, peppering goalie Ben Bishop with chance after chance.

A sellout crowd at Barclays Center was ready to explode.

But one crafty tip by Lightning veteran Ryan Callahan with 12 seconds left flipped the script. And the score was even at 1.

"Big for us," coach Jon Cooper said.

Callahan, positioned in front of the net on a power play, warded off defenseman Calvin de Haan. He directed traffic, motioning with his stick to have Valtteri Filppula pass the puck to Alex Killorn at the right circle. Callahan screened goalie Thomas Greiss and redirected a Killorn shot in for the tying, and momentum-snatching, goal in the Lightning's 5-4 overtime victory in Game 3, giving it a 2-1 lead in the second-round series.

"It's everyone's goal to elevate their game and raise to the next level when you reach the playoffs," Callahan, 31, said Wednesday. "I think once the playoffs come, every little play means so much, whether it's taking a hit, giving a hit, blocking a shot, getting the puck out of the zone late. Everything is magnified. That's an exciting time, and I take a lot of pride in doing all those little things in the playoffs. It shows up."

Callahan has done all those little things this postseason, his one goal (and three points) in eight games not nearly representing his impact. There were his three blocks in a 5-on-3 penalty kill in a Game 3 loss in Detroit in the first round. There was his relentless forecheck in setting up the winning goal in series-clinching Game 5 against the Red Wings, then the 5-foot-10, 186-pound forward's diving save near the end to seal it.

His motor never slows; his energy is contagious.

"He can change the momentum of a game in one shift," said veteran Lightning center Brian Boyle, who also was Callahan's teammate with the Rangers. "It's a huge part of our team."

It's a gutsy effort by Callahan, an alternate captain who is playing through some pain. He missed the final three games of the regular season with a lower-body injury but has appeared in all eight playoff games, taking off some practices to rest.

"Everyone's got some bumps and bruises," he said. "We'll leave it at that."

Former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk hinted in an interview on WDAE-AM 620 that Callahan's injury might require offseason surgery, something the veteran wing didn't want to discuss.

"That's a warrior," wing Erik Condra said. "He's a gamer."

Acquiring Callahan at the 2013 trade deadline in the Marty St. Louis deal with the Rangers and getting him to sign a six-year deal that summer was a "building block" and "defining moment" for the franchise, Cooper said.

"These are the types of players we need to bring in to push us over the top," Cooper said. "We had skill, but who were going to be … those energy guys, those passion guys. He's been that guy for us. … (Callahan) has done everything from the power play to checking line to killing penalties. He's got a lot of respect in our room, and if you want to win, you need guys like that on the team."

On a team not known for physicality, Callahan led the Lightning with 164 hits during the regular season, and his 71 blocked shots were the most among forwards. Ask Callahan and he says he's just as proud of that game-sealing block in Game 5 against Detroit as he is his assist on the winning goal.

"For whatever reason, he's always a bit above and beyond what I think a normal guy puts himself in front of the puck," defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "He's fearless. He played like that for the Rangers when I was in Philly. It was very frustrating to play against because you try to get (the puck) by the goalie already, but when you get him flying around and willing to put any part of his body in front of the puck, it's a testament to his toughness and desire.

"He's a tough player. That sets him apart, for sure."

Especially this time of year.

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

   
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