NEW YORK – “The leaders have to lead.”
It’s been one of coach John Tortorella’s favorite sayings this year. If this Rangers team is going to make any noise in April – or even advance into May – his best players have to step up.
Ryan Callahan, one of the team’s up-and-coming leaders, led the way for New York (35-29-4, seventh in East) this afternoon, scoring a career-high four goals in a convincing 7-0 win over Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia (40-19-6, first) Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
“Just an awesome performance. On national TV – I couldn’t be happier for a guy like that,” said Vinny Prospal, who assisted on two of Callahan’s goals. “This is just an understatement of how hard he works every single game. To be able to do it on such a prime game, on the [Game of the Week], it’s just great for him. I’m very, very happy for him. He shows what kind of person and leader he is, and how important he is to this team.”
“It’s a good feeling,” Callahan said, adding he can’t remember a four-goal-game since Juniors. “We needed these two points, and it was a good time for me to get my first career hat trick. A couple of them were tap-ins, so I have to credit my teammates on those.”
“He’s emerging as one of our top leaders as far as the small things you do in a game: The wall play, the penalty killing, blocking shots, in the room as far as readiness, he brings a lot of those intangibles, not so much the flash to our club,” said Tortorella. “That’s what we are as a team. The team isn’t a bunch of flash. It’s a hard-working, grinding-type team, with Cally leading the way.”
The Flyers, who entered Sunday’s game off a 5-3 home loss to the Buffalo Sabres yesterday afternoon, were defensively inept, with suspect goaltending, lazy back checking, and inadequate effort.
“They played last night, so hopefully the [Flyers] were a little tired,” Zuccarello said of the Rangers mindset coming into the game. “If we could score a couple of goals, they might give up a little bit. We played really good, we made them bad today. We should be happy about the win, and enjoy it for a couple of days until the Wednesday game.”
“It’s a great feeling to get a lot of goals at home, a good win, and build some confidence,” Lundqvist said. “We needed this win. Badly.”
The Rangers – who had scored three-or-more goals in only three of their last eight games – still had to capitalize on Philadelphia’s shortcomings. When Callahan started the scoring just 51 seconds into off a wraparound try by Brandon Dubinsky, the Rangers still weren’t out of the woods. Their issue lately has been getting that second goal – pushing through when they needed to.
“We concentrated mostly on getting pucks in and working on the fore check. They’re so good in the neutral zone it’s hard to get them by their D,” Callahan said after his four goal outburst gave him 20 for the season. “We did that tonight, and we had success below the hash marks. We had guys going to the blue which was one of our main concerns before the game – getting puck there and getting guys there. We did that, and we had success.”
“Today, the way we came out, with the right type of arrogance, we went after the first goal, and the guys on the first line did a great job getting the first goal,” Prospal said. “We didn’t stop there, we went after the second. Obviously, it doesn’t happen like that every game, but this is the prime example of how we want to play, especially at home against one of the best teams in the conference.”
With 7:02 left in the first, Callahan quenched the Rangers thirst for that second goal when he wristed a bad-angle shot high over Boucher’s shoulder, popping the water bottle off the net, even forcing some water out of the container. Zuccarello and Callahan each scored in a span of 1:22 of the second period, extending the Rangers lead to 4-0, and making the rest of the contest academic.
“We’d been struggling getting the second and third [goals] so to be able to get those two, it’s pretty big for us just to relax, and know that if we keep playing that way, we’re going to get goals,” Callahan said.
“Those little things throughout the game were very important,” Tortorella said. “I don’t think there was one turning point, I thought we started the game well, which was very important.”
Rangers take one at home
In extending the Flyers’ losing streak to four games, New York broke their own home losing streak at three games.
“The crowd was into it early. We need that,” Lundqvist said. “We need the building to be rocking. It helps us get going, especially the way we play. A lot of games lately it’s been a little quiet because we haven’t been scoring or winning. It goes hand in hand. We have to play well to get them going, but at the same time, we need them to get going to get us going. It’s a win-win situation.”
The Rangers are now 15-16-3 at home this season.
“We lost [three] in a row at home,” Zuccarello said after the first multi-goal game of his NHL career. “Obviously it’s important to set an example at home that we are the kings in the Garden.”
POST-GAME AUDIO CLIPS: