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Rangers soldier on without Callahan

Alternate captain's injury a tough break, but team is used to such adversity

Tuesday, 04.05.2011 / 4:45 PM / News
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Rangers soldier on without Callahan
Captain Drury Nearing Return to Lineup
Callahan Out with Ankle Injury
Rangers Roar Back to Beat Bruins 5-3

By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

Fresh off one of their most stirring victories in recent memory on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers received some bad news on Tuesday when it was revealed that alternate captain Ryan Callahan had suffered a fractured ankle during that 5-3 win over the Bruins and will be sidelined indefinitely.

“There’s nothing good about this,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said following a team meeting and optional skate at the MSG Training center on Tuesday. “But I think you need to try and turn it into something that will help your team even more during this crunch time. That’s the way we are going to approach it. This could galvanize our team even more.”

The Rangers lose Callahan -- who is second on the team with 23 goals and 48 points---with just two games remaining in the regular season and the team still battling to clinch a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The magic number for the Blueshirts to clinch a berth in the postseason is three -- meaning that any combination of points earned by the seventh-place Rangers and/or lost by the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes totaling three would land the Blueshirts in the playoffs.

Rangers alternate captain Ryan Callahan lands a hit against Boston's Gregory Campbell in Monday's 5-3 victory at MSG. Later in the game, Callahan fractured his ankle blocking a shot by Zdeno Chara.
Securing that playoff berth---as well as having success in the postseason---will be more difficult now that the Rangers will be missing one of their best and most inspirational players in Callahan.

“Obviously he’s one of the best players on the team, and it’s a huge loss,” said winger Marian Gaborik. “We just have to play for him and try to go as far as we can so that he can hopefully come back.”

Callahan suffered the injury blocking a heavy slap shot off the stick of Boston’s Zdeno Chara, and it came mere moments after rookie defenseman Michael Sauer had given the Rangers a 4-3 lead late in the third period during their dramatic comeback victory.

The fractured ankle marks the second time this season that Callahan has suffered a major injury while blocking a shot. Back on Dec. 15 in Pittsburgh Callahan suffered a fractured hand while blocking a Kris Letang shot and proceeded to miss the next 19 games.

“It’s something we’ve handled before because we’ve had to,” said Tortorella. “This has been going on all year long, and guys have stepped up with all the key injuries. We’ll handle it. We’re used to it, and we’ll be fine.”

The Rangers have lost 318 man-games to injury this season. Callahan and team captain Chris Drury both have suffered multiple major injuries, while Alex Frolov was lost for the season to a knee injury and the likes of Gaborik, Vinny Prospal, Marc Staal, Martin Biron, Erik Christensen, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Derek Boogaard have all missed significant time this season.

Drury, who has been out since Feb. 3 following knee surgery, has been skating again the past several days and Tortorella mentioned that the he would rejoin the team at practice -- possibly as soon as Wednesday.

“You really can’t say enough good things about (Callahan) as a person, as a player, as a leader in this organization,” said Drury on Tuesday. “We’re going to miss him, and miss him a lot. He plays in every situation, and does all the little things, and does all the big things. This is going to be a big loss for us.”

For the time being, at least, Tortorella said that defenseman Matt Gilroy, a healthy scratch in six consecutive games, would dress as a forward, taking Callahan’s spot in the lineup. Gilroy had always been a forward growing up before being switched to defense at Boston University. He has seen extremely limited time at forward since turning pro.

However, the Rangers are aware that no one player can take the place of Callahan. It is going to have to be a collective group effort to fill the large void left behind in Callahan’s absence.

“He’s a really big part of our team and he’s really going to be missed, and we feel really badly for him,” winger Wojtek Wolski said of Callahan. “We realize that it’s a big factor that he’s out, but we have to make sure that we are ready and that the guys are stepping up. We can’t dwell on it too long and worry about it too much because we’ve got another game coming up Thursday and then one after that.”

Losing a top player to a broken right ankle near the end of the regular season is hardly unprecedented in Blueshirts' history, and past teams have responded in remarkable fashion.

On March 1, 1972, Rangers scoring leader Jean Ratelle broke his right ankle in a game at MSG, yet the Blueshirts still went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, and Ratelle was back in the lineup for the final series vs. Boston.

On Feb. 25, 1979, Rangers forward Ulf Nilsson, who had 66 points in 59 games, broke his right ankle when checked by Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin at MSG. That Rangers team also went all the way to the Finals, and Nilsson returned for the last two games against Montreal.

Minus Callahan, the Rangers return to action Thursday night when they host the Atlanta Thrashers at MSG.