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Lightning's Callahan possible for Game 1 vs. Rangers

by Corey Long /

BRANDON, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan participated in an optional practice Thursday and will be a game-time decision for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Callahan missed Game 6 of the second-round series against the Montreal Canadiens after having an emergency appendectomy Monday. He was released from the hospital Tuesday and said he watched the game from his home.

"It was tough to watch," Callahan said. "But the guys made it easy on me. There were a couple of times I jumped around a little, but I thought they played their best game of the playoffs."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he didn't know Callahan's status for Saturday but would see how he felt after practice Friday.

"It was a light skate [Thursday], nothing too physically demanding," Cooper said. "He wanted to touch the ice and he hadn't been on the ice since Game 5 (on Sunday), so he's needed to get on at some point."

Callahan said the injury crept up on him and had nothing to do with him being limited to 13:17 of ice time in Game 5.

"I was fine, that was just the way that game went," Callahan said. "This was sudden. I was expecting to go get it checked out and be back home in an hour, but unfortunately these things happen."

When he was told he needed surgery, his first question was, "How long will I be out?"

Forward Tyler Johnson said even though the Lightning were able to rally around Callahan's absence Tuesday they are much happier he's back on the ice.

"It was great to see him back out there battling with the guys," Johnson said. "He's a tough guy, a great teammate and a great leader. He always wants to be out there, especially this time of year."

Callahan's return will be another storyline in a series full of them. Callahan was traded from the Rangers to the Lightning prior to the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline for Martin St. Louis in a rare swap of captains. During this regular season, Callahan had four goals and an assist in three games against the Rangers as the Lightning went 3-0-0.

"There will be a lot of emotions, but the biggest thing is we're in the conference finals no matter who the opponent is," Callahan said. "We have a chance to move on. It's going to be emotional going back there for a playoff game, but I'm excited. It's an exciting time of year. I don't think it gets much bigger than the Eastern Conference Finals. I don't think it could mean more. You are one step away from the Stanley Cup."

Cooper said the storylines are great for the media in New York and Tampa and great for the sport in general. However, each team has gone through several changes since the trade and has a different identity.

"Anything that will open a storyline or bring attention to the game is a good thing," Cooper said. "And this isn't something bad or [controversial]. This is good for the game. How often do two captains get traded for each other and end up going against each other in the Eastern Conference Finals a year later? You can't make that stuff up. It's a pretty appealing story. I'm actually interested to see how it's going to turn out."

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