DALLAS — It’s not as if Mats Zuccarello didn’t know he was going to be traded. In the last year of his contract and with the Rangers in full rebuild, the 31-year-old Norwegian could read the handwriting on the wall well before the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
“I kind of knew this summer, almost, it was going to happen,’’ Zuccarello said Tuesday, before his new team, the Stars, beat the Rangers, 1-0, at American Airlines Center. “But when you get closer and closer to it, it becomes a reality. And I was kind of — not sulking — but I was sad about it for a long time.
“So when it really happened, it was almost like . . . you can let your shoulders down and relax, and now it’s happened, there’s nothing you can do about it. Just go and have fun. I was real excited to get to Dallas.’’
Zuccarello, who is out with a broken arm, didn’t play in Tuesday night's game. His new team got an early goal from John Klingberg and made it hold up, as the Rangers (27-27-11) were shut out for the sixth time this season. The Stars (34-27-5) won even though they couldn’t cash in on a five-minute power play after Mika Zibanejad was ejected for boarding with 9:53 remaining.
The Rangers' Alexandar Georgiev made 31 saves, and Dallas' Ben Bishop stopped 28 shots.
The Rangers traded Zuccarello on Feb. 23 for two draft picks — a second-rounder this summer that will become a first-rounder if the Stars make the playoffs and win two rounds — and a third-rounder in 2020 that will become a first-rounder if Dallas signs Zuccarello to a long-term contract when he becomes a free agent July 1.
The day after the trade, Zuccarello was having a splendid debut for the Stars, with a goal and an assist in the first two periods.
“He elevated our whole team,’’ coach Jim Montgomery said. “He made other players excited to play. And everybody wanted to play with him. A true sign of someone who makes his teammates better is everyone wants to play with him. And everyone did that night.’’
But Zuccarello broke his right arm while blocking a shot near the end of the second period. He had surgery Feb. 26, and the timetable to return was four weeks, meaning he wouldn’t get the chance to play Tuesday against his old team and his old friends.
Zuccarello said his brother and stepfather had ordered tickets to the game. “They were going to watch me play, and I think they ordered in the second period, and I got hurt at the end of the second period,’’ Zuccarello said. “So it sucks that I can’t play it. But I’ll be watching, and I’m still excited to have the guys here.’’
Zuccarello said he had dinner with some of the Rangers Monday night, and he went to say hello to the Rangers’ training and equipment staff after the morning skate.
However hard it may have been to talk about leaving the Rangers after nine seasons, he still managed to throw some jibes at his old buddies Henrik Lundqvist and Zibanejad. He said he had seen the video of Lundqvist choking up and unable to speak when asked for his reaction to the trade.
“He’s a good actor,’’ Zuccarello deadpanned, drawing big laughs.
Of Zibanejad, he said: “We stay in touch. I mean, Mika, he misses me like I was his boyfriend. He Facetimes me every day.’’
Zuccarello had kind words to say about Rangers fans, who have professed their love for him on social media.
“They took me in, and they pushed me and made me who I am today,’’ Zuccarello said. “Same with my teammates and all of the good players I played with. It’s a lot of memories, and you try not to think about it too much, because it’s over. It’s something that when you retire, or something like that, you look back at and really cherish. But right now, I’m still in the game and I’m enjoying Dallas right now and getting to know my new teammates and excited to be on a good team.’’