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Rangers' trade of Mats Zuccarello was tough for Henrik Lundqvist, Mika Zibanejad

The three players were close friends as well as teammates.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is congratulated by Mats

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is congratulated by Mats Zuccarello after the team's 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, in St. Louis.  Photo Credit: AP/Bill Boyce

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The pain was etched on Henrik Lundqvist’s face. No goalie mask to hide it.

There were tears in his eyes. There was emotion in his voice. He tried to spit out some words to reporters the day after his pal Mats Zuccarello got traded by the rebuilding Rangers to the Dallas Stars on Feb. 23, but he quickly had to give up because he was choked up.

“Even though it was talked about for the longest time, it was shocking that it actually happened,” Lundqvist said after practice Monday at MSG Training Center.

Another close friend of Zuccarello’s, Mika Zibanejad, had to deal with it, too. So did the rest of the team and the fans.

Zuccarello was a piece of the fabric here across nine seasons, but he was 31 with an expiring contract. General manager Jeff Gorton sent the winger off to the Stars for two draft picks.

“I miss him,” coach David Quinn said. “He had a presence on and off the ice. So you’re always going to miss that personality.”

Zibanejad and Lundqvist also surely miss that, although they’ve kept in touch with Zuccarello. The two Rangers looked forward to getting together with him; the team left after practice for its game against the Stars in Dallas on Tuesday night. Zibanejad indicated a group could meet up with him.

The Rangers just won’t get a chance to play against him. Zuccarello broke his arm in his first game with his new team.

“It was so unfortunate,” Zibanejad said. “  You don’t want to see that happen to anyone, especially to your friend.”

The trade made Lundqvist, 37, reflect about how many great teammates have left over time.

“The last two [deadlines] have been difficult because it’s not for here and now,” he said. “It’s more for the future. Big, big changes in a different way.”

Like Lundqvist, Zibanejad had to come to grips with Zuccarello’s departure.

“It was hard,” the center said. “We’re still going to be friends. We talk a lot. That doesn’t change. Obviously, you want him in your locker room. You want him on the ice with you. But that’s the business and you learn to deal with it and you learn to accept it and you move on, because you have to.”

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