"I was really concerned," Tortorella recalled Sunday after the right wing had four goals and an assist in a career-best performance in an unexpected 7-0 pounding of the Eastern Conference-leading Flyers.
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"The wall play, blocking shots, in the room as far as readiness, he brings a lot of those intangibles, not so much the flash," Tortorella said. "The team isn't a bunch of flash; it's a hard-working, grinding type of team, with Cally leading the way. He makes the small, subtle plays that are the foundation of winning. That's why we missed him so much."
It ended a streak of four consecutive losses at the Garden for the Rangers, who wore white road jerseys for the first time this season "to change things up," a team spokesman said.
Whether that, or Friday's 4-1 win in Ottawa, was a psychological tipping point is unclear. What is undeniable is that the Rangers played a potent 60 minutes, beat the Flyers for the first time in five tries and kept themselves, with 74 points, in a playoff spot with 14 games to play.
"We needed this win badly," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 24 saves for his league-leading ninth shutout.
He noted that the victory put the Rangers in a position to relax on the flight to California for a weeklong trip. "It's going to be a lot easier to sit on the plane for six hours now,'' he said. "This one was definitely a team effort. They had a couple scoring chances but not a lot; especially in the third, we shut them down."
Callahan scored at 6:28 of the second period for the hat trick, stripping Kris Versteeg in the slot and sending goalie Brian Boucher to the locker room down 4-0. His fourth goal - and 20th of the season - came when Matt Gilroy's pass deflected off his skate and past Sergei Bobrovsky at 4:12 of the third.
"I guess when it rains, it pours," said Callahan, who opened the scoring 51 seconds after the puck dropped, tipping in a backhanded pass from Brandon Dubinsky. "We haven't changed our style at all. I believed the goals would come. We just didn't get the bounces."
Callahan has 10 goals and 16 points in his last 16 games. His team is 18-6-1 when he records a point.
The matinee also marked the return of Marian Gaborik (concussion), who had four shots. "I thought we moved the puck well on the power play [2-for-5]," said Gaborik, who matched Callahan's numbers with four goals and five points against Toronto on Jan. 19.
In all, 11 Rangers recorded points to dispatch the Flyers, who have lost a season-high four straight.
Mats Zuccarello scored twice, but Callahan's line was dominant at times, with Artem Anisimov scoring and adding an assist and Dubinsky landing lefts and bloodying Flyers captain Mike Richards when the frustrated Flyers were down 2-0. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who missed the Ottawa game with a wrenched knee, was outstanding in his return, finishing with an assist and a plus-4.
"It was time to show them they won't have an easy way with us," said Vinny Prospal, who had two power-play assists during a game in which 17 penalties were called. "We didn't wait for them to start playing; we went out and played the way we were capable of. We basically took the play to them."