Just hours after their biggest win of the season, the New York Rangers received crushing news about perhaps their most important player.
Forward Ryan Callahan is out "long term" after fracturing his right leg during Monday's 5-3 comeback win against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden. Callahan suffered the injury blocking a shot by defenseman Zdeno Chara with 1:45 left in the third period and did not return.
After Tuesday's optional practice, coach John Tortorella confirmed the injury and said Callahan will be "out indefinitely."
"You keep moving on and play," Tortorella said. "Someone fills in, someone takes responsibility. You keep on playing."
It's the second major injury suffered by Callahan this season as a result of blocking a shot.
He broke his hand after absorbing a shot from Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang on Dec. 15 and missed 19 games.
Callahan ranks fifth in the NHL among forwards with 77 blocks, 8 fewer than League leader and teammate Brian Boyle, despite playing in just 60 games compared to Boyle's 80. The Rangers are second in the NHL in blocks with 672.
To his credit, Chara expressed remorse over the injury Tuesday.
"Callahan is a top-six guy yet he still plays with so much heart and grit. You don’t see many guys that throw their bodies around to block shots like that,” Chara told reporters in Boston. “He plays the game so hard. You have to respect a guy like that. I heard after the game that he’d probably broken a bone, so I just hope that he’s okay long term.”
This type of adversity isn't new for the Rangers this season. They've been forced to play without nearly every key player in the lineup for stretches, including Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal, Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky, Alex Frolov, Ruslan Fedotenko, Marc Staal and Erik Christensen.
The timing of Callahan's latest injury makes it even worse, but Tortorella believes the fact his team has played well with key players out of the lineup will make this a little easier for the team to handle.
"It's been going on all year long. Guys have stepped up," Tortorella said. "We'll handle it. They're used to it and we'll be fine."
Callahan isn’t just a shot-blocking forward and key penalty killer for the Rangers; he's also one of their top scorers this season. He has a career-high 23 goals and 48 points despite missing nearly a quarter of the season with his hand injury.
He had a four-goal game against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 6 that showed his overall value to the team as a leader and a complete player.
"He is emerging as one of our important leaders," Tortorella said at the time. "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."
The Rangers are tied with the sixth-place Montreal Canadiens in points with 91 and can clinch a playoff spot Thursday with a win against the Atlanta Thrashers if the Carolina Hurricanes lose Wednesday night to the Detroit Red Wings.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo