By Sean Hartnett
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Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle — all former Rangers — stormed into Madison Square Garden to give New York fans a taste of what their team is missing: effort, execution and confidence.

The fired-up Tampa Bay Lightning struck often, trouncing the Rangers 5-1 on Monday night.

“They shoved it down our throats,” defenseman Marc Staal said.

Only one team played at full speed. It wasn’t the Rangers.

Defenseman Dan Girardi wasn’t pulling any punches when it came to diagnosing the problem. Girardi explained that as a team, the Rangers are not putting in consistent effort from game-to-game.

“We know the game plan, we know what we have to do, but we are not willing to battle for the loose pucks, the 50-50 pucks, second and third efforts,” Girardi said. “You are going to get outplayed by a team like that. They are one of the top teams in the East overall. We have to figure it out real quick. We have some good games, we have some bad games. Our consistency is really off right now.”

Head coach Alain Vigneault couldn’t hide his frustration following the lopsided defeat. After last season’s magical run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Blueshirts have become the definition of mediocrity at 7-7-4.

“We’re a .500 hockey team right now,” Vigneault said. “.500 is not going to get you into the playoffs.”

Vigneault became increasingly irritated as the press conference went on.

“Other than the start to (the first and second) periods, everything in-between was just a total disaster,” Vigneault said. “There were turnovers, and we made it easy on the opposition on their breakouts and everything in between.”

When asked to pinpoint the Rangers’ defensive struggles, Vigneault rattled off a list of issues that has plagued his crop of blue liners.

“Puck management, one-on-one situations, A, B, C or D,” Vigneault said. “Pick one.”

While things look gloomy for the Rangers, the opposite can be said of the high-octane Lightning. Tampa Bay has gone 8-1-1 over a 10-game stretch.

CALLAHAN SHINES IN GARDEN RETURN

Prior to the game, Stralman expressed his belief that the night would belong to Callahan. His words would prove to be prophetic.

“I think this is ‘Ryan Callahan Night’ more than anything,” Stralman said. “I’ll be in the shadows.”

Amid a mixture of cheers and boos, Callahan took center stage on the sheet of ice that he called home for eight seasons. The 29-year-old winger scored twice, led the Lightning with four shots on goal, delivered two hits and blocked one shot.

One Rangers fan was captured by MSG Network cameras holding up a sign that read: “Captain Cally: Blood, Sweat and Cheers.”

“I loved my time here in New York,” Callahan said prior to the game. “I loved the organization, the fans. The fans here are unbelievable. I can’t say enough about them – they way they brought me in, the way they treated me, cheered for me – I embraced them, I loved them.”

The sign summed up the feelings of many Ranger fans. New Yorkers rallied behind Callahan’s fearless style of play. His brand of blue-collar hockey forged a special bond with fans in the blue seats. Following Monday’s game, Callahan expressed his gratitude for the overwhelming support of Rangers fans and thanked his former team for the scoreboard tribute that honored him, Stralman and Boyle.

“What they did in the first, they didn’t have to do that,” Callahan said. “That’s the Rangers organization. It shows how classy they are. The fans cheering like that shows how classy they are.’

Since acquiring Callahan last March, the Bolts have gone 12-0-0 in games which he has scored.

Callahan and Steven Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula have formed one of the league’s most dynamic lines. Through 14 games, Callahan has scored eight goals and collected seven assists for 15 points.

Stamkos praised Callahan’s renowned work ethic and growing offensive game.

“He’s going to work extremely hard, he’s going to do whatever it takes to win,” Stamkos said. “You see this year, he’s getting an opportunity to be more of an offensive player and the skills that he has – he’s playing a role and he’s playing great for us. He’s a big part of why we’re doing well so far.”

Follow Sean on Twitter – @HartnettHockey.

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