There's no doubt that Ryan Callahan means a lot to the New York Rangers.
He has been their best player this season, the player who best represents the way that relentless effort can translate into good things over the course of a game and a season. The team has flashed plenty of heart and soul across the board, but Callahan has been the leader and the man with the most of each.
That's what made the news of his broken ankle in Monday's stirring victory over the Bruins such a shot to the gut. This Rangers team was calibrated to get by on guile over talent and Callahan's injury screwed up that calibration at exactly the moment that the Rangers needed to control everything in their immediate future.
They played their first game without Callahan on Thursday night and that control has totally evaporated. A 3-0 loss to the Thrashers means that the Rangers enter the weekend hoping that the Hurricanes don't win both of their remaining games because that would make a playoff berth impossible.
Tempting as it is to blame Callahan's absence for the flop against Atlanta, it just doesn't ring true. The Thrashers are not a good team, winners of just five regulation games in their last 43 contests entering the Garden, yet they carried the game against a team that was supposed to be fighting for their lives.
The score is actually a bit deceiving because Henrik Lundqvist made several good saves to keep the Rangers from being totally run off their own ice. No one stepped up to take Callahan's place providing speed and puck control, with the ever disappointing Marian Gaborik providing nothing but a poor play to set up the final Thrashers goal when the Rangers desperately needed something positive from him.
So the door is open for the Hurricanes with the only saving grace being that they might not be good enough to actually walk through it. Still, all the Rangers can do is beat the Devils on Saturday and then hope that things break their way.
That's not where you want to be before the 82nd game of the season when your best player won't be playing in it.