NEW YORK -- Once Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan got over initial nerves, he helped pen a storybook ending to his return to Madison Square Garden.
Callahan scored twice and Steven Stamkos had a goal and an assist to lead the Lightning to a 5-1 win against the New York Rangers on Monday. The game was Callahan's first against the Rangers since they traded their former captain to the Lightning on March 5.
"Obviously two goals, that's a bonus," Callahan said. "I'm happy with that but to come here and get the win, that's the big thing.
"A lot of emotions. I'm happy it's done with. You move on from it. I'm happy to move past it now. It's over, I enjoyed it, it was a good win and now you move on."
It was an emotional evening for not only Callahan, but two other former Rangers who faced their old teammates; Callahan, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle -- the latter two key components to the Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring -- received a welcome back tribute during the first television timeout. Callahan, who minutes earlier was booed after touching the puck for the first time, received the loudest ovation of the three.
"What they did in that first [break] they didn't have to do that," Callahan said. "The Rangers organization, it shows how classy they are and the fans cheering like that shows how classy they are. I love playing in front of these fans and this crowd and [Monday] was no different, even though they booed me when I first got puck. I had a little chuckle about it. They showed a lot of class though when they did that presentation and cheered me."
Rangers fans were rendered silent once Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring at 6:50 of the first period. Stamkos had a goal and two assists to extend his point-scoring streak to six games (four goals, five assists). Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Valtteri Filppula each had two assists to pace the Lightning, (13-4-2), who are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games and a point behind the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Atlantic Division.
"You just try to keep the ball rolling," Stamkos said. "When things are going well you're finding ways to win hockey games and it's contagious. I think [Monday] was another learning tool for us, how to play in the third, how to shut it down, know that we can do that and really not make any mistakes, not give them any chances or any life. I'm proud of the guys for that."
Martin St. Louis scored for the Rangers, who dropped to 7-7-4 after losing their third straight game. The Rangers were held to a season-low 16 shots on goal. Their previous low was 20 in a 5-4 comeback win against the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 27.
"Very tough to explain," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We had a good start to the game and they scored that goal, they seemed to get momentum. We had a good start in the second, forced them into a few penalties and then they scored. Other than the start to both periods everything in between was a total disaster. [We] made it easy on the opposition for their breakouts and everything in between.
"We're a .500 hockey team right now and .500 isn't going to get you to the playoffs."
Callahan completed the scoring at 17:09 of the third period after Stamkos forced a turnover and fed him in front of the net. Callahan made two moves against a helpless Henrik Lundqvist for his eighth goal and fourth in his past six games. The Lightning improved to 12-0-0 when Callahan scores dating back to last season.
"You know what you're going to get from Cally every night and that's a good thing," Stamkos said. "He's going to work extremely hard and do whatever it takes to win. You see this year I think he's getting an opportunity to be more of an offensive player. He's playing the role and playing great for us."
The Lightning displayed crisp puck movement on their fourth goal. Off a missed Rangers shot, Palat fed the puck cross-ice to Alex Killorn, who played pitch-and-catch with Johnson to beat Lundqvist with a shot that went off the post and in at 18:32 of the second period.
Killorn's goal came shortly after Jonathan Drouin's was waved off after he interfered with Lundqvist. But critical for the Lightning was their ability to survive an earlier 5-on-3 Rangers power play in the second, which coach Jon Cooper referenced as the turning point of the game.
"They had a little mojo going and we kind of snuffed it out," Cooper said.
St. Louis trimmed the Lightning lead to 2-1 32 seconds into the second period of his first game against his former teammates. Working the power play, St. Louis camped in front of the net and tipped Derick Brassard's pass off the stick of defenseman Jason Garrison. The goal was St. Louis' seventh of the season and sixth in his past eight games.
With the Lightning on the power play, some nifty stickhandling from Stamkos set up the Lightning's second goal. Stamkos received a cross-ice pass from Filppula and evaded a diving Carl Hagelin to set up Callahan at the right post for the tap-in at 14:20.
"Stammer couldn't set it up on a better platter for me, I don't think," Callahan said. "It was good to get that one. That really calmed my nerves down, getting that first goal early and letting me just play."
The Lightning took the lead on their first shot of the game seconds after goalie Ben Bishop stopped St. Louis on a partial breakaway. Back the other way, Palat found Johnson to start the break. Johnson fed a streaking Kucherov, who split the defenders to drive uncontested on Lundqvist. The Rangers goalie got a piece of the shot but not enough and it trickled over the goal line at 6:50 of the first.
Bishop made 15 saves for the Lightning to improve to 11-2-2. He entered the game 5-0 with a 0.91 goals-against average and two shutouts in five games (four starts) against the Rangers.
But the night belonged to Callahan, who is proving just as indispensable to the Lightning as when he was the Rangers' heart and soul for eight seasons.
"If you write it up before the game that was pretty much how you'd like to write it up," Cooper said. "And you can't say enough about Ryan Callahan. He's been doing that for us since the day we acquired him. I'm just so glad he's on our bench and not theirs."