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Ryan Callahan practices on Thursday before Bolts depart for New York

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Just three days after having an emergency appendectomy prior to Game 6 of the Montreal series, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan returned to the ice to practice with his teammates before the Bolts took off for New York City Thursday afternoon.

Callahan wore a regular practice jersey during the optional training session. He said he feels “tremendously better” each day and is questionable to play in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers.

“I got to go out and take a light skate with the guys today,” Callahan said. “It felt pretty good. As my status, I’d say day-to-day and see how it goes.”

Callahan said he had a stomach ache Monday morning that got progressively worse as the day went on. He called Lightning head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan Monday afternoon, and after being examined by Mulligan, was sent to Tampa General Hospital.

“(Mulligan) had me lay down and kind of push where my appendix was and it was really sore,” Callahan said. “So, I had to go in and get it checked out, and next thing you know, I got it out.”

Callahan said the first thing he thought when he heard he was going to have surgery the night before Game 6 was, “How long am I going to be out?

“It’s tough news obviously, something you’re not really expecting. I expected to go in and get checked out and be back home in an hour. Unfortunately, those things happen. The team played amazing, a great Game 6. It was tough to watch, but exciting to try to get back.”

Callahan watched Game 6 from his house and was impressed with how his teammates responded in a pressure-packed situation.

“A couple times I jumped around a little bit too much I think,” Callahan joked. “It was good. It was one of the best games I think we played in the playoffs, and it was fun to watch.”

Callahan hadn’t been on the ice since Game 5 in Montreal on Sunday. None of his Lightning teammates were surprised to see him back out there.

“He’s a warrior,” Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t on the ice just knowing Cally. I never had that done, but I don’t think I want to from what I hear. It’s pretty special to have him back on the team. He’s a huge, huge contributor on and off the ice, so when he’s around, everything’s a lot better.”

Added Brian Boyle: “A little surprised he didn’t play in Game 6. Seriously.”

EASTERN CONFERENCE OPPONENT

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wasn’t concerned who would win Wednesday’s Game 7 between the Rangers and Washington Capitals, the victor matching up against the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.

He just wanted to see a good hockey game.

He got his wish.

“I was kind of watching the game as a fan,” Cooper said. “I thought it was a real good hockey game. I wasn’t sitting there thinking who we were playing or that we were actually going to play one of these opponents. I was just enjoying a great game and a great sport. It was fun to watch.”

Cooper said the Lightning will be facing a formidable opponent in the upcoming series, which begins Saturday (1 p.m. puck drop) at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers have been to the Eastern Conference Final three of the last four seasons and were the league runnerup a year ago.

Their postseason experience will be a big factor in the series. The Rangers rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit to defeat the Capitals. They did the same a year ago when they came from behind to beat Pittsburgh in the Second Round after trailing three-games-to-one.

“They’re the Presidents’ Trophy winner. They’re Stanley Cup finalists last year, so they’ve got a really good team,” Cooper said. “They’ve got a world-class goaltender, so you would think the teams that kind of have that pedigree would be able to come back and they have. It’s not a guarantee that you can come back, so it’s really impressive that they’ve been able to do it, but that’s why they are in the standings where they are because they have a good team. When you’re a confident group and you’ve got faith in your goaltender, much like ourselves, this is where you can end up.”

Callahan, a former Ranger, said the Lightning will have their hands full trying to get the puck past New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, although the Bolts were able to score 15 goals on him during three regular season victories in a 15-day span in November and December.

“He’s one of the best goalies in the world,” Callahan said. “He’s very tough to beat…He comes every day ready to work and not too much phases guys like that.”

Boyle, who played five seasons with New York before joining the Lightning in the offseason, said playing the Rangers doesn’t provide any extra motivation for him.

Playing in the Eastern Conference Final is the only motivation necessary.

“It’s going to be fun to play back up there,” he said. “I played a lot of playoff games in that building. It’ll be a new experience playing on the other side. As the playoffs go, that building gets louder, much like any other building. It’ll be exciting. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

Boyle said he and his teammates have thoroughly enjoyed their current Stanley Cup Playoffs run and don’t want to see it end any time soon.

“The way that I’ve been welcomed here, the group of guys we have here, it’s been phenomenal for me,” he said. “This year’s been really, really a lot of fun, and we don’t want it to end. That’s what’s most important. We want to keep this thing going in here. This is our family. This is who we’re going to battle with every night since September really. We want to keep it going.”

MARCHING FORWARD

Lightning forward Jonathan Marchessault saw his first NHL playoff action in Tuesday’s Game 6 win over Montreal.

Marchessault, along with Slater Koekkoek, Mike Angelidis and Luke Witkowski, practiced with the Lightning on Thursday and could be counted on in future playoff games.

He had 11:15 time on ice and registered one shot on goal.

“He did everything we thought he would, and it’s why we put him in the lineup,” Cooper said. “We wanted a right-handed shot. We wanted a guy that could play the power play on that side. We wanted a shoot mentality first guy. We wanted somebody that had a little bite to his game, competitor, a guy that could get a puck 200 feet, a guy that could keep up, a guy that could play the simple game but still give us a threat to score. He did every one of those things and…kind of rounded out our forwards and gave us a chance to win that game.”

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