Mark Messier elevated himself to legendary status 21 years ago when he guaranteed the Rangers would win Game 6 of their Eastern Conference finals against the Devils and then delivered, producing a hat trick in the process.
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper wasn't making any guarantees, exactly, Sunday, but he did make a prediction -- saying he expected another former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan to score his first goal of the postseason Sunday night when the Lightning and Rangers played Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden.
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"Probably tonight's the night he's going to score," Cooper said of Callahan, "because he does that on big stages, and he's probably going to do it in the building that he grew up as a hockey player."
Cooper's prediction came about after he was asked how he thought Callahan had performed through the first four games of the series, which was tied 2-2 entering Sunday night. Callahan didn't score in the Lightning's 2-0 win Sunday night but he was credited with a team-high four hits.
Callahan had missed Game 6 of the Lightning's second-round series against Montreal after he had an emergency appendectomy on May 11, but he recovered well enough to be back in Tampa Bay's lineup when they opened the series against the Rangers. But in five games, Callahan has yet to register a point, and in 16 playoff games this spring, he had just three assists.
Still, Cooper said Callahan isn't the sort of player whose worth can be judged by his bottom line goals and assist totals. The 5-11, 190-pound center is known for playing a physical, sound defensive game and being an important penalty killer and a clutch performer. He never has been a pure goal-scorer, but it is his gritty style and his penchant for making big plays at key times that made him a fan favorite when he played for the Rangers before he was dealt to the Lightning at the trade deadline last season for Martin St. Louis.
"Ryan Callahan brings so much to our team in the locker room, on the ice, his physical play," Cooper said. "Defense pairings know when he's on the ice. They're checking their shoulder the extra time because they know Callahan's coming. He's a pain in the butt in front of the net, and he just wears his heart on his sleeve.
"Everybody's not going to score at the pace of [Steven] Stamkos or [Tyler] Johnson, or Kooch [Nikita Kucherov] or those guys that are scoring," he said. "But you need other guys to help carry the load. And Callahan's one of those guys."
But with the Lightning looking for some secondary scoring -- top-six forwards Johnson (four), Alex Killorn (three), Stamkos (three) and Ondrej Palat (two) had combined to score 12 of the Lightning's last 13 goals entering Sunday night, Cooper was expecting Callahan to contribute some tangibles to go along with the many intangibles he provides on a nightly basis, to take some pressure off Tampa Bay's top two lines.
"When you're winning, it probably goes a little unnoticed, because the two [top forward] lines are playing probably a little bit more if they're scoring," Cooper said. "The way our team has gone, they've kind of carried us. We haven't really needed the secondary scoring."