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Callahan helps Rangers to season-high 4th in row

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- Following several days with rumors circulating regarding Ryan Callahan's future with the New York Rangers, their captain responded with his best performance of the season.

Callahan scored twice and had an assist for his first three-point game of the season, and the Rangers defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-1 Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Brad Richards, Derick Brassard and Anton Stralman also scored, and Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves for the Rangers (31-23-3), who have won four straight for the first time this season.

Gabriel Landeskog scored for Colorado (36-15-5); Semyon Varlamov stopped 38 of 43 shots.

Talk circulated last week of a potential trade involving Callahan after the Rangers reportedly gave at least one team permission to speak to his agent. The impending unrestricted free agent led a dominant first period in which New York outshot Colorado 20-4 and scored twice.

The Rangers, who hadn't played in four days, dictated the early pace against the Avalanche, who beat the New Jersey Devils 2-1 on Monday night in Newark.

"I think those three days [off] helped us. We jumped out in the first and then we get that momentum and we seemed to roll with it and never gave it back to them in that first [period]," said Callahan, who faced some questions regarding the trade rumors. "I try not to bring that business to the rink. I try to concentrate on the Rangers and what we're doing here and trying to get two points. That's my main focus."

The Rangers were outshooting Colorado 14-2 less than nine minutes into the game before they opened the scoring after Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson carried the puck deep into the offensive zone before falling along the half-wall. The turnover led to a 2-on-1 rush with Rangers forward Carl Hagelin carrying the puck alongside Callahan.

With Avalanche forward Matt Duchene forced to play defense, Hagelin made a cross-ice pass to send Callahan in alone on Varlamov. Callahan beat the Russian goaltender on the backhand for his 10th of the season with 5:44 remaining in the period; he entered with three goals in his previous 28 games.

Callahan benefited from another careless play by a Colorado defenseman later in the period. Nate Guenin's cross-ice pass in his zone was intercepted by Richards, who carried toward the net before finding Callahan alone in the slot. Callahan beat Varlamov to the blocker side with a wrist shot that gave New York a 2-0 lead with 2:25 left.

"[Ryan] wants to contribute. It's not easy going through these things," said Richards, who was subjected to similar scrutiny during a difficult 2012-13 season. "Financially we're lucky to do what we do. It is also part of the business sometimes. It's unfortunate when you have to go through it. He's been professional through it. He really helped our line and really played well."

Lundqvist made one of his finest stops of the night 6:30 into the second period while Dan Girardi served two minutes for holding. The goalie snared Nathan MacKinnon's wrist shot from the left circle with his glove. But Landeskog scored seven seconds later, taking MacKinnon's pass in the slot and beating Lundqvist for his 17th of the season at 6:37 to cut the lead to 2-1.

But any spark the Avalanche may have felt was extinguished 53 seconds later when Stralman gave New York a 3-1 lead. The defenseman's wrist shot from the point deflected off Duchene and beat Varlamov high to the blocker side. It was Stralman's first goal since April 19.

Lundqvist's best stretch came late in the period when Colorado had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:50 after Girardi was called for high-sticking shortly after Chris Kreider was whistled for holding. He made two quick stops on MacKinnon from the left side before stoning Landeskog at the lip of the crease. Lundqvist then stopped Duchene in close shortly after Girardi finished serving his minor to keep the Rangers up by two.

"That was probably was their biggest chance [to come back]," Lundqvist said. "It didn't feel too good to see our guy skate off there and be two guys down. But that was huge for us. To kill that and then to get that fourth goal killed their momentum. It was a big part of this win."

The Rangers then blew the game open in the third period.

Brassard scored at 1:58 following a blind pass from behind the Colorado net by Mats Zuccarello. Brassard partially fanned on the shot, but the puck bounced off Ryan O'Reilly's skate past Varlamov for his 10th on a play that typified Colorado's struggles.

"As much as we had some good breaks yesterday in Jersey, tonight it was the opposite," Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. "We score on the power play, it's a 2-1 game. They take a shot from the blue line, it goes off the pants of our player and makes it 3-1. We have a few good chances, it hits the skate and goes in. Some nights the puck doesn't bounce your way. That's the way it was tonight."

Richards finished the scoring by taking a feed from Callahan in the slot and beating Varlamov blocker side for his 15th with 1:36 remaining.

"That's where I want to be, on the ice playing for the Rangers," Callahan said. "It's nights like this that I enjoy that."

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