Before the season began, when we were making the case for Ryan Callahan to be named the new captain of the Rangers, we looked at what exactly makes one qualified to wear the “C.” A player must be talented, though hockey ability isn’t the only qualification. A good presence in the locker room helps, and a team surely understands that its captain serves as something of a representative of the franchise.
Then last fall, when we spoke with Rangers broadcaster (and former team captain) Dave Maloney, we chatted about the captaincy in hockey. In a portion of the interview that was cut for length, he said that Callahan was the right choice for this team because “it’s important to have a captain that’s been part of the culture,” adding that Callahan has “grown up as a part of this franchise, and he really is representative of who they are at this particular time.” But if you had to sum up the role of a captain in just a few words, you might say that his job is to lead by example. And that’s what Callahan did last night in the Rangers 4-2 win over the Jets — one that extended their lead to five points over Pittsbugh and (for what it’s worth) put them in the lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.
For the first period and change of last night’s game, the Rangers hardly looked like a team that could finish with the best record in its division, let alone the league. Via the Post, when Brandon Dubinsky was whistled for slashing at 6:35 of the second period — the Rangers’ fifth penalty of the game — Winnipeg was not only winning 2-0 but was outshooting the Rangers 17-4. The penalty kill had done its job, but Winnipeg had been controlling play and was about to go on the power play once again.
Then, during said power play, Brandon Prust made a nice play at the Rangers’ blue line to clear the puck. Ryan Callahan jumped off the bench and chased the puck behind the Winnipeg goal, where he did some Ryan Callahan things, came away with possession, and threw the puck in front of the net, where a pinching Michael Del Zotto put it in to cut the Rangers’ deficit to one. From that point on, the Rangers played like the team to put together all those winning streaks earlier in the season, led by Callahan but getting contributions from a number of places. The special teams were excellent last night: Not only did they kill all five Jets power plays (scoring shorthanded on the last of them), they added two power play goals themselves, one by Callahan himself and another by Derek Stepan. (Brian Boyle scored the Rangers’ only even-strength goal of the night.) John Tortorella said afterwards that “the last 30 to 35 minutes was the best we had played in a while.”
And so the Rangers (who have five games remaining) now have a five-point lead on the Penguins (who have six games remaining). And for as inconsistent as the Rangers were while the Penguins made up ground in the standings, Tortorella’s team has now won five of its last six games. (The Penguins, by comparison, are 3-2-1 in their last six.) Yes, all three wins on the Rangers’ road trip that ended last night came against teams outside of the playoff picture, but nothing in the NHL is a sure thing — see Pittsburgh’s loss to the Islanders the other night — and any points at this time of the season are huge. Speaking of the Pens and Isles, they meet again tonight as Nassau Coliseum. Go Islanders.