Billy Martin would have loved Mats Zuccarello. The late Yankees player and manager, who made a career out of being scrappy and exceeding expectations, likely would have had special appreciation for the undersized, overachieving forward who keeps lifting the Rangers.
Zuccarello confessed Sunday, after scoring two very significant goals on a rink built atop a famous ballfield, that he is not an expert on Yankees lore. "I've never been here," he said of Yankee Stadium, site of his team's riveting 7-3 win over the Devils. "And baseball is not that big in Norway. But I've lived in the U.S. for quite a while now, so I know it's pretty special."
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The 5-7, 179-pound player from Oslo turned the game, brightened the day for the Rangers and continued his own special streak. He scored the tying and go-ahead goals in the Rangers' 4-0 second period and maintained the spark that has reversed his team's rough start to 2013-14.
He has 15 goals this season, and a growing degree of respect from the rest of his team. "He has been incredible all season," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "Very talented, very smart. It makes up for his size for sure; he plays big. I think he's got a tremendous sense of where everybody is on the ice. He's proving to a lot of people what he can do."
Among the things he can do is skate past the opposition and get himself in position to score before the other side even knows he is there. The Devils never were the same after his goals at 2:48 and 12:44 of the second.
"Zuke was obviously one of our key guys today and has been that way the entire season, it seems like; coming up with big plays, making smart decisions with the puck," Henrik Lundqvist said. "He works hard all over the ice. So far this year, he has just been so good for this team. He had a really strong game."
Unlike Lundqvist, Zuccarello is not the type who is expected to carry the squad. He was known as "The Hobbit" soon after he was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010. The Rangers re-signed him as a free agent last March.
He missed out on the Rangers' only previous regular-season outdoor game, the Winter Classic in Philadelphia two years ago.
"It's a big game, it's a good experience, so obviously I was a little disappointed not being able to play in that. But I was in the AHL and I wasn't good enough," Zuccarello said. "Today was probably better, playing in front of our home fans. So I'm happy I'm able to play with this group, here in this stadium."