Ryan Callahan celebrates his game winning goal at 2:42 of...

Ryan Callahan celebrates his game winning goal at 2:42 of overtime to defeat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1. (March 21, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

Make that 27 at 27.

Ryan Callahan, who played like a man possessed in the third period of a tie game Wednesday night, celebrated his 27th birthday at 2:42 of overtime at Madison Square Garden.

That's when the Rangers' first-year captain's blocker-side shot beat Ty Conklin for his 27th goal to lift the Rangers over the Red Wings, 2-1, and extend their Eastern Conference lead to three points over the Penguins with nine games left.

"[Brandon] Dubinsky starts it off with the puck up the middle and then DZ [Michael Del Zotto] finds me in the middle," Callahan said. "So it was a good birthday gift. They set me up in the second but I 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 without starting goalie Jimmy Howard, Nicklas 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 to start for the Wings, who are winless in six (0-4-2).

Callahan willed the Rangers to two points, blocking shots and breaking up plays 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 the third period and overtime. Overall, he 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 made a diving poke check to knock the puck away from the dangerous Pavel Datsyuk on a break.

The Rangers (46-20-7, 99 points) are 4-2 on the current homestand, which ends tomorrow night against the Sabres.

Henrik Lundqvist allowed a weak goal at 3:36 of the first when fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg's 40-foot wrister fluttered through his pads. It was Zetterberg's 19th goal. About six minutes later, Lundqvist (26 saves) kept the score 1-0 when Del Zotto whiffed on a bouncing puck and Valtteri Filppula cut in alone. But Lundqvist gloved his backhanded breakaway bid.

Brad Richards tied the game late in the first period on a coast-to-coast rush. With Todd Bertuzzi serving a too-many-men on the ice penalty stemming from a collision on a botched line change, Richards picked up the puck behind the Rangers' net, sped through center ice, split Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart and slid a forehander past Conklin at 14:58. Lundqvist recorded his second assist of the season on the goal.

"I got a head of steam and decided to keep going," Richards said of his 24th goal.

That's what the Rangers have done as they try to finish off a remarkable regular season.

Notes & quotes: Dan Girardi is the Rangers' nominee for the Masterton Trophy, as voted by the New York chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association . . . The previous 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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