For six games, Ryan Callahan had done everything but score: Bang along the boards, forecheck, kill penalties, set up teammates for shots and assumed the role of first-line right wing with Marian Gaborik sidelined.
And in the absence of injured Chris Drury, Callahan has been the defacto captain.
Talk about a jack of all trades.
Going into last night's game against the Devils, the Rochester native in his 5th year with the Rangers, he led the club in shots and hits and was tied for the lead in assists with four. Against Boston on Saturday, Callahan, who was named an alternate captain last season, spent a team-high 22:45 on ice and scored his 100th point by feeding Marc Staal for the breakaway game winner.
Last night, as the Rangers (4-2-1) decked the Devils 3-1 for their third consecutive win, Callahan finally found the net.
In the second period, with Ilya Kovalchuk in the box, he drove to he finally found the net, getting the blade of his stick on Brandon Dubinsky's shot and tipping it past Martin Brodeur at 12:22 for the 2-0 lead.
"I was hoping it was going to come this year," said Callahan. It wears on you but you want to do whatever you can to contribute. I had some chances in the last couple games and they weren't going in for me but hopefully, that one will open up the gates a little bit. You just have to keep working and going to the net."
Callahan had done just that shorthanded earlier in the game. He tried to deke Brodeur to the goaltender's right and the puck hit his pad, rolled across the crease and was cleared. "He's been great all over the ice," said Artem Anisimov, who has centered the line with Callahan and Dubinsky since the first game of the season. "He does it all."
The Rangers dominated of the out-of-synch Devils while skating 5-on-5, have reversed a 1-2-1 start and seem to have found an identity based on end-to-end effort, physical play and penalty-killing, which has permitted just 7 goals in 33 chances.
For Callahan, who says he hasn't done anything different in the room with Drury out with a broken finger, did concede that " we're starting to build an identity with this team," he said. "That doesn't come with one game or one weekend. It's a good start for us, once everybody's on the same page we're a tough team to beat."
Michal Rozsival, who assisted on Callahan's goal, scored at 1:26 of the first on a slap shot from the point, but the Rangers needed another quality third period from Henrik Lundqvist (27 saves).
"It seems when we play the Devils, Henrik kicks it up another notch and in the third period," said Callahan, "he's why we won the game."
Kovalchuk, who was a healthy scratch, apparently for a mystery insubordination on Saturday, cut the lead to 2-1 in the third, converting a blind, between the legs pass from Dainius Zubrus at 14:08. Brandon Prust, who had been a questionable starter after a high stick to the right eye in Boston, failed to clear the zone on the play.
The Rangers power play, just one for 7, could have sealed the win late in the third when Dubinsky was pulled down by Jacob Josefson, but sputtered. It is not the same without Gaborik and Vinny Prospal.
But Lundqvist, with the Rangers skating on fumes in their third game in four nights, stood tall as the Devils turned up the heat in the last two minutes. He made two stops on Josefson after the power play, and nine others in the final period until Dubinsky's empty netter with one second left provided the final.
Lundqvist could sense a difference in the locker room before the game. "I think winning two in a row, the guys are more relaxed. We're not as tense and you don't think too much."