VET­ERAN’S RE­TURN KEY TO LIGHT­NING WIN OVER FLORIDA

An in­jury gets Ryan Cal­la­han a lineup spot again. He’s a dif­fer­ence maker, as usual.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - DIANA C. NEARHOS

Ryan Cal­la­han wasn’t even sup­posed to be in the lineup, but an in­jury to On­drej Palat gave him the chance to re­turn. He cap­i­tal­ized with a goal Sun­day in a 5-2 win over the Pan­thers.

SUN­RISE — Ryan Cal­la­han’s mo­men­tum sent him into the boards on his back. He threw out his hands and screamed.

That goal felt good.

Cal­la­han came back from the All-Star break at the end of Jan­uary ready to play. Then the 33-year-old vet­eran of 745 ca­reer games was told he was out of the Light­ning lineup. He had been in a ro­ta­tion of three for­wards on the fourth line, but

Light­ning 5 Pan­thers 2

now he was No. 13 in a lineup for 12.

Cal­la­han called it a gut punch. He said he’d just have to make sure he was ready the next time he got in the lineup. And the fourth-line wing did ex­actly that. He cap­i­tal­ized on the chance with a goal in his re­turn to the lineup Sun­day in a 5-2 win over the Pan­thers at BB&T Cen­ter.

“It’s al­ways good to get an op­por­tu­nity to get back in,” Cal­la­han said. “You want to con­trib­ute, so see­ing that one go in is al­ways good.”

It looked good, too. Near the end of the sec­ond pe­riod, Cal­la­han beat Pan­thers de­fense­man Aaron Ek­blad in a foot race for the puck af­ter the Light­ning’s Mathieu Joseph had poked it away from Florida for­ward Vin­cent Trocheck. With Trocheck closing in

be­hind him, Cal­la­han switched be­tween fore­hand and back­hand six times. He then flipped the puck over goalie James Reimer on the back­hand for a 3-1 lead.

The goal ended up the win­ner for the Light­ning (41-11-4).

It wasn’t just Cal­la­han’s first goal since Jan. 10. It was also his first since Cal­la­han was taken out of the reg­u­lar lineup ro­ta­tion.

“You have two op­tions in that sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “You can get the poor-me’s and sulk, or you go in, work, wait for the next op­por­tu­nity and make sure when that op­por­tu­nity comes, you’re ready. I just tried to take the ap­proach of work­ing ev­ery day.”

An up­per-body in­jury to On­drej Palat (day-to-day) gave Cal­la­han the chance to re­turn to the lineup.

Cal­la­han has played in only two of the seven games since the All-Star break (he played in the Feb. 2 win over the Rangers when Bray­den Point was hurt). It’s not a sim­ple as this, but the Light­ning is 17-2-1 in the past 20 games in which Cal­la­han has played. Tampa Bay is 6-4 in the 10 games with­out him in that stretch.

“It’s not fun (for Cal­la­han), let’s just put it that way,” cap­tain Steven Stamkos said. “He wants to be out there bat­tling with the guys. He’s an ul­ti­mate pro­fes­sional where he’s go­ing to work his (butt) off when he’s not in the lineup. Ob­vi­ously, we love what he brings when he is in the lineup. He’s been play­ing great.”

In ad­di­tion to the goal, Cal­la­han made a sea­son-high seven hits Sun­day. He also has three goals and three as­sists in his past eight games. He has been pro­duc­tive.

Even out of the lineup, Cal­la­han has main­tained his pres­ence as a leader in the dress­ing room.

“That’s the word, he has a pres­ence,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s so well-re­spected in our room. Ev­ery­one re­spects him.”

De­spite the great game from Cal­la­han, it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily change any­thing. He played be­cause of an in­jury. Cooper has pre­vi­ously said Cal­la­han will play again but with­out any speci­ficity of when. He also has said that young play­ers such as Joseph and Adam Erne need an op­por­tu­nity to prove them­selves.

So now, Cal­la­han is back play­ing the wait­ing game.

“I felt good (Sun­day),” he said, “and if I get an­other op­por­tu­nity in the next game, I need to do it

again.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Ryan Cal­la­han whoops it up with the bench af­ter his sec­ond­pe­riod goal against the Pan­thers, his first score since Jan. 10.

As­so­ci­ated Press

The’s Light­ning’s An­thony Cirelli, left, and Alex Kil­lorn out­num­ber the Pan­thers’ Mike Mathe­son in a puck bat­tle. The Light­ning be­came the third team in NHL his­tory to record 20-plus home wins and 20-plus road wins in its first 56 games of a sea­son, join­ing the Red Wings in 2007-08 and Cap­i­tals in 2015-16.

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