OTTAWA - After first-time U.S. Olympian Ryan Callahan scored two goals to lead the Rangers past the Ottawa Senators last night, coach John Tortorella recalled a conversation he had with Team USA head coach Ron Wilson.
"I told Ronnie to play him more,'' said a grinning Tortorella, who was one of Wilson's assistants. "That's what Cally said to me: 'I should have played more.' I said: 'I tried.' ''
In the Rangers' first game after the two-week break, Callahan, who skated on the fourth line and killed penalties for the silver medalists, stepped onto the first line, replacing the injured Marian Gaborik. Callahan scored his 16th and 17th goals in a four-goal second period as the Rangers began a desperate push for a playoff berth with a 4-1 victory.
"I didn't think there would be a letdown at all,'' Callahan said. "Everybody who played in the Olympics, I think, had a little more jump on the ice. It's one of the biggest things I wanted to do the rest of the year, keep my speed up all game.''
With the Rangers down 1-0 on Milan Michalek's three-on-two goal on the first shot faced by Henrik Lundqvist at 3:21 of the first, Callahan's speed proved critical. He blew by defenseman Matt Carkner down the left side and ripped a shot past goaltender Brian Elliott at 22 seconds of the middle period, and added his second goal at 16:56 in the midst of a three-goal explosion on four shots in 2:02.
On his second goal, Callahan spun and chipped a bad-angle rebound backhander of Sean Avery's shot past Elliott for a 3-1 lead. Callahan's second score was sandwiched between Brandon Dubinsky's wrister from the left circle and Avery's charge to the crease and tip-in of Enver Lisin's backhander.
Lundqvist, playing his first game since Team Sweden was eliminated from the Olympics on Friday, admitted some uneasiness.
"I didn't feel that good in the first half of the game,'' Lundqvist said. "I had new pads and they felt stiff, but I worked myself into it and the second period I had some luck."
At 6:59, Michalek's snap shot hit the crossbar and Lundqvist said he said at the time: " 'It's my day today.' I tried to be a little sharper after that.''
That's the thought process Tortorella wants. "The key thing, and we talked about it before the game, we have to get a mind-set of grinding.'' the coach said. "They're going to be close games this time of year.''
With that in mind, Gaborik's injury is a troubling sign for the Rangers (29-27-7), who have a formidable slate of games this week against the Penguins, Capitals and Sabres. They placed two forwards, Aaron Voros and Lisin, on waivers to create some cap room before today's 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Gaborik, who suffered a gash in his right thigh in a practice collision with Lundqvist early last month, suffered another lower-body injury in Slovakia's game against Canada on Friday. And defenseman Michael Del Zotto is out while he regains his conditioning level after sitting out three weeks after suffering a 50-stitch skate gash on his chest.
"I don't think I'm at the point where I can go out and help the team," said Gaborik, who has 35 goals and 34 assists. "I cannot really push off. It's frustrating, but I just have to stay positive."