NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Ryan Callahan is one tough hombre.
Just days removed from an emergency appendectomy, Callahan could be on the ice when the Tampa Bay Lightning open the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday against his former team, the New York Rangers.
Normal recovery time for the type of procedure Callahan had is a lot longer than the five days that his layoff would be if he is in the lineup for Game 1 at Madison Square Garden. Though he skated Thursday and practiced without limitations Friday, Callahan is officially day-to-day, but it’s starting to feel like the veteran forward not playing would be the bigger surprise.
“I was told the recovery period is pretty quick, so … each day seems to be getting better and better,” Callahan said. “I’m going in the right direction.”
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault agreed.
Callahan’s appendectomy forced him to sit out Tampa Bay’s clinching Game 6 win over Montreal on Tuesday. He has three assists and is a plus-7 with 42 hits in 12 postseason games this spring, and when he does actually return will likely re-assume his duties on a line with captain Steven Stamkos.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said whether Callahan plays may depend on his tolerance for pain.
“Those things are painful (according to) anyone who’s ever had one,” Cooper said. “But he’s a pretty tough kid. So I would suspect he would come back.”
While the Lightning will likely need contributions from everyone to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, Callahan’s presence in this series will be especially noteworthy. Once the captain of the Rangers, the 30-year-old winger got caught up in a contract dispute and was eventually traded to Tampa Bay last spring in a blockbuster deal that sent former Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis to New York.
The Lightning also received what ultimately became three draft picks, including two first-rounders, while the Rangers also got a second-rounder.
Initially, it looked like the Rangers won the trade as St. Louis piled up 15 points in helping New York advance to last season’s Stanley Cup Final, where it lost to Los Angeles in five games. Callahan struggled with his new team, failing to register a point as the Lightning were swept in the first round by Montreal.
But then things started to change. Callahan surprised many by re-signing with the Lightning for six years, firmly establishing himself as part of their present and future. He went on to match his career high with 54 points as Tampa Bay finished the 2014-15 regular season with a franchise-record 108 points.
St. Louis, who will turn 40 in June and is in the final year of his contract, registered 52 points this season, his lowest since putting up 30 during the 2001-02 season. His game has gone south in the playoffs, as he hasn’t scored a goal in 12 games. A member of the Lightning’s 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship team, St. Louis has seen his postseason ice time cut as a result.
“Of course coaches make decisions at key times in the game for whatever reason,” St. Louis said Friday after practice. “I’ve never liked being left on the bench at certain times, but that’s just reality. If I liked it, I don’t think I would be here today. Nobody likes that.
“But right now I’m focusing on Game 1 and helping my team win. I’m not too worried about what happened toward the end of that game. I trust (Vigneault’s) judgment.”
A fan favorite for part of eight seasons in New York, Callahan scored 132 goals and amassed 254 points in 450 regular season games with the Rangers.