TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan insists he doesn't need the extra motivation at this time of the season. It's nice to have it anyway.
Callahan has an opportunity Tuesday at Amalie Arena in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) against the New York Rangers to knock his former teammates out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs so he can get to the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay leads the best-of-7 series 3-2 after its 2-0 win Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Callahan's not looking at it as retribution, but in a way it is because Callahan watched, admittedly with mixed emotions, as the Rangers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final without him last season.
Contract talks between the Rangers and Callahan broke down to the point he was sent to the Lightning on March 5, 2014, in a trade that involved Martin St. Louis coming to New York and draft picks changing hands.
"By mixed emotions I mean I wanted to be part of it," Callahan said of the Rangers' run to the Cup Final last season. "That's something we'd been working towards. Being a captain of that team and being a part of that organization, that's something you wanted to be part of. By no means did I have anything negative toward them making that run. When I left I knew they were a great team and they had a great shot at it, so it was good to see."
Make no mistake, though, it stung Callahan to miss out on the opportunity because of the way he left the Rangers organization.
"It was hard, there's no question," Callahan said. "That's where I grew up, where I started, captain of the team. It was very tough for me to leave that organization, but I couldn't have landed in a better spot. I'm very happy here in Tampa."
Callahan said he stayed in contact with his close friends on the Rangers throughout their run last season. Even though he was home watching, the Lightning having been eliminated in four games in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens, Callahan was thrilled for his buddies when they reached the Cup Final and played the Los Angeles Kings.
"I talked to them throughout their run," he said. "It was nice to see them have that success."
Now he's one win away from taking another run at the Cup Final away from them, and there is no denying the conversations Callahan had with his former teammates last year helped fuel his desire this year.
He might not need any extra motivation at this time of the season, but having some certainly hasn't hurt his cause.
"You can see how exciting it was," Callahan said. "Even just talking to them about their experience, how fun it was in the Final and the run through. I don't think you need any more motivation. This is what you dream about, this opportunity to advance to the Stanley Cup Final."