NEW YORK – There was a lot to like about the New York Rangers' 2-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
For the second straight game, the Rangers put forth a solid 60-minute effort. They received contributions from their second and third lines, including a first-period goal from defenseman Michael Del Zotto less than two minutes into the game.
Even the much-maligned power play came through what turned out to be the deciding goal, as Ryan Callahan powered home a rebound for just the Rangers' third goal with a man-advantage this season in 24 opportunities.
But the sweet taste of improving to .500 was replaced by bitterness afterward, as Callahan was forced to leave the game with what appeared to be a left shoulder injury after dropping the gloves with the Flyers' Max Talbot early in the third period.
"It's worse now, but at that time, you can't really dwell," Rangers forward Brian Boyle said of learning the team's captain would not return to the game. "You look at what he does for us, it's definitely a blow. You try to motivate yourself to fill in for him as best you can. We tried to do that. Whenever he's not on the ice, he's missed and you notice he's not there. When he's on the ice, you notice he's making big plays."
Rangers coach John Tortorella had no update on Callahan after the game and said he would be re-evaluated Wednesday. Talbot said he could tell right away that something wasn't right as he and Callahan started to fight but only picked up two minutes each for roughing.
"We were holding each other up and his shoulder popped out or something," Talbot told NHL.com. "It was unfortunate. I let him go. I kind of felt it, but then I saw his face as well."
Callahan's absence over the final 15:18 was immediately noticeable, as a two-goal lead was cut in half when Kimmo Timonen scored on a power play 2:27 after Callahan exited. Timonen found himself alone in the slot, and wristed a perfect shot that beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was fantastic in making 27 saves, over the catching glove.
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov did everything he could to give the Flyers a chance to tie the game late, stopping a Carl Hagelin breakaway with 1:25 remaining in the third period. He made 27 saves in all, nine in each period.
Danny Briere had a game-high 10 shots on Lundqvist, who played his best game since the season-opener in Boston.
"I did? Me, personally?" Briere said when told of his shot total. "I thought I had five or six. I had a couple good chances, but it's Lundqvist. Most goalies, it would've been a two- or three-goal night. It happens. I'm going to keep shooting. It's not good for my shooting percentage, but I'm going to keep shooting."
The Flyers had a chance to make it 2-1 midway through the second period with a 5-on-3 power play for 1:17, as Brad Richards and Derek Stepan took penalties 43 seconds apart. At no point did the Rangers clear the zone during those two minutes of shorthanded time, but they did everything they could to disrupt passes and obstruct shooting lanes.
At one point during his nearly two-minute shift, Rangers forward Jeff Halpern lost his stick. The Flyers put just two shots on net, had two more shots blocked and Claude Giroux missed the net with a one-timed cannon from just above the face-off circles during a golden opportunity that went for naught.
"It was really big," Tortorella said of the kill. "We've been on the other end of it, not scoring. I feel like they were caught out there and I thought the guys did a really good job. It's an important part of the game."
Del Zotto's second goal of the season was also just the Rangers' third goal in six games that didn't come with either Richards, Marian Gaborik or Rick Nash on the ice. Scoring depth has been a problem in the early going with the Rangers putting their best three forwards on one line, but the second and third line had their best game of the season.
Callahan, Hagelin, Stepan, Boyle, Taylor Pyatt and Benn Ferriero combined for 12 shots and had another five attempts blocked or miss the net. Even the Rangers' defensemen stepped up with 10 shots on net.
For all the attack time, they only generated the one even-strength goal, but it was another step in the right direction.
"We're trying to keep our game consistent and I thought last game we did a great job of trying to gain our identity back," Del Zotto said. "Maybe it wasn't the prettiest at times, but we found a way to win and that's one thing we did a great job with last year, sticking with our game plan, being there for each other. It was a huge two points for us."
How the potential long-term loss of Callahan affects the club remains to be seen.
Even with his game cut short Tuesday, Callahan averages 20 minutes of ice time per game. He is the Rangers' No. 1 penalty-killing forward, averaging 3:26 of ice time per game in those situations. He is tied for the team lead in hits with Boyle at 37, and with the Rangers already thin at forward, they'd miss his goal-scoring ability perhaps most of all.
The Rangers almost had a two-goal lead evaporate in just 15 minutes without Callahan. If he isn't available for Thursday's home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, their mettle will be put to the test.
"The second, third and fourth lines were cycling through and I think did a good job of playing defensively," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "Anytime your line mixes up, being in the defensive zone is tough, but we responded well and were able to close it out."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo