Make that 27 at 27.

                      Ryan Callahan, who played like a man possessed in the third period with the Rangers tied with the Red Wings at 1, found a way to celebrate his 27thbirthday at 2:42 of overtime tonight at Madison Square Garden.

                      That’s when the Rangers first-year captain’s blocker-side shot beat Ty Conklin for his 27thgoal to lift the Rangers over the Red Wings 2-1 and raise their Eastern Conference lead to three points over the Penguins with nine games remaining.

                      “(Brandon) Dubinsky starts it off with the puck up the middle and then DZ  (Michael Del Zotto) finds me in the middle,” said Callahan. “So it was a good birthday gift. They set me up in the second but a missed a wide open net. I had to respond.”

                       The Rangers needed every ounce of Callahan’s energy to outlast Conklin (32 saves) and an injury-riddled Wings team. Detroit was missing starting goalie Jimmy Howard, veteran Nik Lidstrom and two other defensemen, Jakub Kindl and Jon Ericsson and forwards Johan Franzen and Darren Helm. Conklin, who had not started a game since early February, was summoned from Grand Rapids of the AHL to start.

                       In the first game after the Rangers clinched a playoff spot with a 4-2 defeat of the Devils, Callahan willed the Rangers to two points, blocking shots and breaking up plays in late in the third period.   

                     “He just had an unbelievable third period and overtime,” coach John Tortorella said of Callahan, who played 8:15 in final two sessions, and overall had eight shots, three hits, two blocks and some gutsy defensive plays. Midway through the third, for example, with the Rangers on a power play, Callahan raced up ice, and dove to stick the puck away from the dangerous Pavel Datsyuk on a shorthanded break.

                    With enormous pressure to hold their ground atop the East and the Atlantic Division, the Rangers (46-20-7, 99 points) are 4-2 on the current homestand, which ends Friday against the Sabres.  “I think we’re starting to get our groove back,” said Callahan.

                     Although the speedy, crafty Wings spun away from Rangers attempts to play physical, they hung in. “We used the word patience quite a lot,” said Tortorella, especially after Henrik Lundqvist, one of the stars that Tortorella is counting on, allowed a weak goal at 3:36 of the first when Henrik Zetterberg’s 40-foot wrister fluttered through his pads.

                       At 14:58, Brad Richards, with his sixth goal in six games, tied the game on a coast-to-coast rush. With Todd Bertuzzi serving a too-many men on the ice penalty on a botched line-change, Richards picked up the puck behind the Rangers net, no one challenged him as sped through center ice, split Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart and slid a forehander past Conklin. “I got a head of steam and decided to keep going,” said Richards of his 24thgoal.  That’s what the Rangers have done as they try to finish off a remarkable regular season.   

Notes & Quotes

  The last Rangers win over the Wings was a 3-1 victory on Oct, 25, 2003…Artem Anisimov returned from a sore shoulder and Ruslan Fedotenko was a healthy scratch for the first time all season.

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