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Boyle, Callahan do it all for Lightning

Tampa Bay forwards lead by example on and off the ice

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

NEWARK, N.J. -- To the Tampa Bay Lightning, they are salt of the earth. To the New York Islanders, they are salt in the wound.

The Lightning brought in Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan for nights like Tuesday, when they were on the road in a tied playoff series against an opponent looking to finish checks, go to the hard areas and get the puck to the net.

And who scored key goals when they defeated the Islanders 5-4 in overtime in Game 3 and took a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Second Round? Boyle and Callahan, the former New York Rangers, the Islanders' old rivals.

Callahan deflected a shot on the power play with 12.5 seconds left in the first, tying the game 1-1 even though the Lightning were outshot in the period 17-9. Boyle slammed home a puck at the side of the net 2:48 into overtime, lifting the Lightning to victory even though they had trailed three times and the Islanders had done almost everything they set out to do.

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm3: Boyle beats Greiss to win it in OT

They'll be back at Barclays Center for Game 4 on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Boyle and Callahan haven't scored often in the playoffs. Each has played 33 games over the past two years; each has three goals. But they do so many other things: Hit. Block shots. Kill penalties. Take abuse in front of the net on the power play. Play through pain.


With captain Steven Stamkos out after having vascular surgery, the Lightning have three alternate captains: Boyle, Callahan and Ondrej Palat. Boyle and Callahan have always been the most vocal anyway.

"When you think about someone who's going to step up and say something when the team needs something, it's usually one of those two guys," forward Alex Killorn said Thursday after the Lightning practiced at Prudential Center. "Obviously Stammer's not with us right now. He'll be back, but in the locker room, he's not here. So those two guys are definitely leaders in the room.

"I think when they speak especially, people listen."

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm3: Callahan tips home power-play goal

Boyle and Callahan were teammates for five seasons with the Rangers and made the Eastern Conference Final together in 2012. Callahan was their captain but couldn't come to terms on a contract extension, and he went to the Lightning at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline. The Lightning were swept in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens; the Rangers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.

Callahan liked the Lightning so much that he signed an extension with them that June, then helped recruit Boyle and another former Rangers teammate, defenseman Anton Stralman, to sign with them as unrestricted free agents on July 1.

"I was very excited," Boyle said. "Just kind of got a feeling this could be really special."

At that point, the Lightning had not won a playoff round in three years. They had a green roster and a coach in Jon Cooper with a little more than a season of NHL experience. But they had talent.

"We needed guys that had been there before, guys that had been through those wars, the Callahans, the Stralmans, the Boyles, the ones that had been to Stanley Cup Finals, who knew what it took to get there," Cooper said. "I think we had such a young group coming up with kind of all those American League kids that came in. Who's going to lead them? Who's been there before? And that was what kind of changed I think the dynamic of our team."

The Lightning made the Stanley Cup Final last season, defeating the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, and are two wins from a second straight conference final even though Stamkos and Stralman (fractured fibula) haven't played in these playoffs.

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm1: Boyle stands up Hamonic in the 1st

Callahan sat out toward the end of the regular season because of an injury, and he has spent a lot of time in the training room in these playoffs - something no one will talk about publicly, something that does not go unnoticed by his teammates. Still, he leads the Lightning in hits with 30 and blocked shots with 12. He blocked three shots on one 5-on-3 penalty kill in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings. Boyle has 18 hits and five blocked shots.

"Those guys are borderline nuts," Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said. "Boyle doesn't even have a [visor], and he's just sitting there blocking pucks. It just sets the tone for the rest of the guys. It shows everybody how willing they are to take one for the team."

Asked what he respects most about Callahan, Boyle leaned back in his locker and gave it some thought.

"What you see is how he is every single day," Boyle said. "Guys can fake it a little bit and try and get in the League and play a certain way, and then fall back on …"

He didn't finish the sentence. He didn't have to.

"His work ethic, his character is genuine," Boyle continued. "You can't fake it. He's been that way every day. He's got a lot of respect from every guy he's ever played with. He leads the way. He shows you how to play. You watch him play and the way he carries himself, you'll be a better player and person."

Asked what he respects most about Boyle, Callahan said "his work ethic" and "his willingness to do whatever on the ice."

Callahan might have said more. But he was talking while walking because the team bus was waiting for him. He had spent so long receiving medical treatment after practice, he was the last player to leave the rink.

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