NEW YORK -- Ryan Callahan did something single-handedly Sunday afternoon that the New York Rangers had only done three times in their previous nine games -- he scored four goals.
Callahan's first career hat trick and four-goal game was the fuel to the Rangers' explosive performance in a 7-0 dismantling of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden. He wrapped up the hat trick just 6:28 into the second period and tacked another for good measure early in the third period.
The Rangers have scored 11 goals in their past two games, both victories.
"I guess when it rains, it pours," Callahan said.
Callahan gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead a mere 51 seconds into the game when he redirected a pass in front from Brandon Dubinsky. Callahan made it 2-0 later in the period by firing a precise laser over the shoulder of Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher, who dropped down far too early to defend against a pass across the crease.
After Mats Zuccarello, who had a career-high two goals, made it 3-0 at 5:06 of the second period, Callahan made it 4-0 by capitalizing on an inexcusable turnover by the Flyers' Kris Versteeg, who was stripped of the puck in the slot. Callahan gathered and fired a shot over Boucher's catching glove to end the goaltender's afternoon.
"It was a good feeling," Callahan said of the hat trick. "We needed these two points so it was good time for me to get my first career hat trick. A few of them were tap-ins, so I have to credit my teammates."
The Rangers tightened their hold on seventh place in the East. They have a three-point lead on eighth-place Carolina and a four-point edge on ninth-place Buffalo, but the Sabres have played four fewer games than the Rangers.
The Flyers, meanwhile, are in the midst of a season-high four-game losing streak. They still hold a two-point edge on the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the East, but they are clearly headed in the wrong direction. Philadelphia also has just a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division, although the Flyers still have two games in hand.
"Right now, we're having a difficult time getting out of a rut," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "Today was not a good day. We've got to find a way to win a hockey game. I have confidence in this group that we're going to win hockey games. It didn't happen today. We didn't have the jump we needed."
Flyers captain Mike Richards attempted to get his team fired up when he fought Dubinsky early in the second period. Instead, Dubinsky unloaded blows upon the smaller Richards, and the Rangers would score twice in the next six minutes.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves to earn his League-best ninth shutout. He didn't have too many tough saves to make, but his left pad stop on Claude Giroux late in the first period kept the Rangers up two goals, a lead they had been struggling to secure before the last two games.
"I think when we scored that second goal, you could feel how their energy went away a little bit," Lundqvist said. "They lost the last three games and they come in here, so that extra effort might not be there. It is a great feeling to get a lot of goals at home. It was a good win. We needed this one. It's going to be a lot easier to sit on the plane for six hours now."
The Rangers will be on a quick West Coast trip starting Wednesday in Anaheim and ending Saturday in San Jose. At 20-13-1, the Rangers are one of the better road teams in the NHL.
Winning at home, however, has been a struggle. They are 15-16-3 at MSG and staring down a second consecutive losing season at home. The last team to post a losing record at home and make the playoffs were the 1998-99 Edmonton Oilers, who went 17-19-5 at what was then known as Skyreach Centre.
"We need to get home wins," Lundqvist said. "We have to win here. This one was a team effort. It was fun. There was a lot of energy out there."
Callahan's fourth goal of the game and 20th of the season certainly wasn't the prettiest. Defenseman Matt Gilroy whipped the puck toward the front of the net. The pass handcuffed Callahan, who accidentally deflected the puck into the net off his skate.
The goal was reviewed and Toronto and deemed to lack a distinct kicking motion, so it was allowed to stand.
When it rains, it really does pour.
"This is 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. "It just shows how hard he works. To be able to do it on a national game on Sunday -- I am really happy for him. He showed what kind of leader he is and how important he is."
Rangers winger Marian Gaborik, who had been out for two weeks due to concussion symptoms, returned to the lineup. He was held without a point in 14:28 of ice time. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh also returned after wrenching his knee two games ago against the Minnesota Wild.
The Flyers, who have been dealing with a flu bug in their locker room, were without Jeff Carter for the second time in three games.
Carter's illness couldn't have been helped by watching Callahan pick apart his teammates.
"He is emerging as one of our important leaders," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "He brings a lot of those intangibles -- not so much the flash -- to our club. That is who we are as a team. The team isn't a bunch of flash. It is a hard-working, grinding team and it certainly comes from Cally."
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