NEW YORK, N.Y. – Rangers’ second-leading scorer Ryan Callahan is out indefinitely because of a broken right leg, just as New York is making a final push for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Callahan, who has a career-high 23 goals and 25 assists this season, was injured with 1:45 left in Monday night’s stirring 5-3 comeback win over the Boston Bruins that pushed the Rangers from eighth place into a tie with Montreal for sixth.
The injury won’t require surgery to fix, but is likely season-ending.
“It’s long term,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday after the team’s optional skate.
New York has a one-point lead over Buffalo and a four-point edge on Carolina, the team just below the post-season cutoff, with two games remaining. Montreal, Buffalo and Carolina all have three games to play. Any combination of three points gained by the Rangers or lost by Carolina will lock up a spot for New York.
While the Rangers are in a fairly good position to make the playoffs after a one-year absence, the loss of Callahan greatly diminishes their chances of making a significant run once they get to the post-season.
The injury occurred when the fearless forward blocked a shot by six-foot-nine defenceman Zdeno Chara, who broke the league record for the hardest drive with a 105.9 m.p.h. blast at this year’s all-star skills competition.
Callahan is high on the scoring list despite playing in only 60 games. He is fifth in the NHL among forwards with 77 blocks, and the Rangers are second in the league with 672.
“You watch teams that end up going far in the playoffs, shot-blocking is a must,” Tortorella said after Monday night’s win. “That’s just a given for us in what we have to do.”
The right-wing is first on the team with 10 power-play goals and five game-winners. He is 12th in the NHL with 224 hits, despite being only five-foot-10. Since returning from a broken hand on Feb. 1, Callahan leads the Rangers with 13 goals and 24 points in 27 games—including a four-goal, five-point outburst against Philadelphia on March 6.
Callahan missed 19 games this season with the hand injury sustained while blocking a shot by Pittsburgh defenceman Kris Letang on Dec. 15.
He made a major impact just before being hurt again when he delivered the pass that set up Brandon Dubinsky’s goal that lifted the Rangers into a 3-3 tie with the Bruins with 3:48 remaining on Monday. Michael Sauer followed with the go-ahead goal 51 seconds later, and Derek Stepan sealed the thrilling win by scoring an empty-netter with 52.2 seconds left.
To fill in for Callahan this time, Tortorella said that defenceman Matt Gilroy, a healthy scratch for six straight games, will rejoin the lineup as a forward Thursday against Atlanta.
New York captain Chris Drury is also making strides to get back into action. He has been skating in recent days and will take part in full team practices. Drury has played in only 23 games this season because of finger and knee injuries. He has been out since undergoing knee surgery on Feb. 11.
He isn’t rushing back because of Callahan’s injury, and his return isn’t close, but he realizes how difficult it will be to replace what Callahan brings.
“You can’t really say enough good things about him as a player and as a person and as a leader in this organization,” Drury said. “We’re going to miss him, and miss him a lot. He plays in every situation and does all the little things, does all the big things. He’s just been great. He’s going to be a big loss for us.
“As he would want us to do, want the guys to do, is play hard without him, kind of move on, win some games, and put a smile on his face that way.”
Drury knows the peril of shot-blocking. He broke a finger for a second time when he got in front of a drive in the home opener on Oct. 15.
“They are there every night doing that,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said Monday. “Everyone is doing a great job paying the price. We are going to need it. We are going to need guys to sacrifice their bodies. That is the way we play … we play hard.
“When we do that, we have a much better shot towin.”