Compared to last year, the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs will be different for this Rangers squad for many reasons: a top seed, a different opponent, a marquee center added to their lineup.
But above all else: Ryan Callahan.
The gritty sparkplug, who has since been named team captain, is leading the Rangers into the first-round match-up against the Senators healthy, unlike last April when he was forced to watch while his team make an early exit after falling to the Capitals. In the week before the team’s best-of-seven set against Washington, Callahan suffered a broken ankle after blocking Boston’s Zdeno Chara’s thundering slapshot.
Save for a bruised foot that cost him six regular-season games, the 27-year-old winger has had better luck injury-wise this year. He also enters the post-season with a career-high 29 goals and 54 points.
“I look up and down the bench for him all the time, in all situations," coach John Tortorella said . "And now he has developed into quite a leader... He identifies who we are, so it’s nice to have him with a uniform on, not watching.”
The homegrown core forward was chosen as the team’s 26th captain because of how he plays and what he represents: a relentless, blue-collar worker that sacrifices and willingly does it all. Callahan blocks shots, delivers hits, kills penalties, crashes the net – essentially everything a team needs to have success.
After missing out last year, he is grateful and eager to contribute in the first playoff series of his tenure as captain.
“Last year was hard, missing the playoffs and not being able to be a part of it," he said. “I’m excited for it this year.”
His teammates are, too.
Callahan isn’t the most vocal guy. He is the consummate lead-by-example teammate, so his selflessness and unyielding work ethic bolsters those around him. Hopefully, that helps the Rangers to improve upon their 2011 post-season performance, when they succumbed to the Capitals in five games.
Said teammate and good friend Dan Girardi:
“This year, having him, it’s going to be awesome.”