BOSTON - You can't blame Mats Zuccarello for thinking it would take a while to feel comfortable after not playing in an NHL game since his skull was fractured by a shot last April 24.
Before last night's preseason game against the Bruins, the Rangers forward admitted that while lying helplessly in a New York hospital bed, he had far more serious concerns than when he might resume his career.
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"It's kind of like, I mean, how's my life going to be like this? I can't talk, I can't function," the 28-year-old said.
Doctors told him he was going to recover, he recalled, "but it's hard not to have those thoughts when . . . you can barely move and you have those things [wires] in your head, and you can't talk, so sure, it crossed my mind."
The Norwegian winger, who skated with former linemates Derick Brassard and Rick Nash, didn't exactly know how he was going to react on the ice. "I'll see when we get out there," he said. "I feel good body-wise, but it's probably going to take some time, the same for everyone, for things like timing, receiving passes, knowing where all the guys are on the ice," he said.
But Zuccarello returned to form amazingly fast, with a power-play goal and a pretty pass for an assist in the first period during the Rangers 4-3 shootout win. Zuccarello also scored in the shootout.
In the first period, Zuccarello sped down the right side and lifted a sweet backhand pass across to Brady Skjei, who hit the post. The puck deflected off goaltender Jeremy Smith to tie the score at 1 at 11:52.
Then, on a power play, Brassard fed Zuccarello to Smith's right, and his wrister gave the Blueshirts a 2-1 lead at 16:10.
Zuccarello played with a new helmet for extra protection, battled in the corners and backchecked.
He feels he has room to improve. "I didn't skate as much this summer; I started skating when I got here, but three weeks before I got over here, I was just working off ice with a coach [in Norway]."
Zuccarello was grateful to be back wearing a Rangers jersey. "When you have teammates like this who support you, visit you in the hospital,." he said, "I can't thank them enough how they treated me."
Blue notesIn his preseason debut, Henrik Lundqvist stopped 21 of 22 shots through two periods before, as planned, he was replaced by Jeff Malcolm . . . Kevin Hayes, except in the faceoff circle, played much better than he did against the Flyers on Monday, and scored the Rangers third goal.