Hours after beating the Devils, 5-2, in an emotional afternoon game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, the Rangers pulled the trigger on a trade that sent fan favorite Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars in exchange for a conditional second-round pick in the 2019 draft and a conditional third-rounder in 2020.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who reported the trade, said the second-rounder will become a first-round pick if the Stars win two playoff rounds and the third-rounder will become a first-round pick if Dallas re-signs Zuccarello, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun tweeted that the Rangers are retaining 30 percent of the remainder of Zuccarello’s $4.5 million salary.
The deal was announced shortly after 9 p.m. and is the first big one for the Rangers, who also are expected to trade forward Kevin Hayes and defenseman Adam McQuaid — and maybe others — before Monday’s 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline.
All three players are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer, and all were held out of the game against the Devils.
“Like we talked about before the game, we all knew this day was a possibility,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said in his postgame news conference. “It doesn’t make it less emotional.’’
The Rangers, who had played poorly in Thursday’s 4-1 home loss to Minnesota — in which Zuccarello, Hayes and McQuaid played — spoke in the locker room afterward about how difficult it was to play the game knowing the three players most likely would be leaving the team.
“It’s not easy,’’ Mika Zibanejad said when asked how hard it was to play through the emotions surrounding the trades that seemed imminent.
“I think everyone has their own way of dealing with it. Personally, I think last game [Thursday] was a little bit of the same feeling, knowing that this could happen. Especially . . . a really good friend of mine, and not seeing him being a part of the team before the game, and being out there with us, it’s — the same goes for and . . . it’s tough.’’
With the three players scratched against the Devils, the Rangers were forced to go with a lineup featuring 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Defenseman Brendan Smith played left wing on the fourth line, with Boo Nieves and Connor Brickley.
Jimmy Vesey, playing in Zuccarello’s spot on Zibanejad’s right wing, scored the game’s first goal at 4:48 of the first period just as a penalty to the Devils’ Brett Seney was expiring. Ryan Strome, assuming Hayes’ No. 2 center role, added a power-play goal at 8:54 and Chris Kreider made it 3-0 at 14:23 with his 25th goal.
“We kind of talked about it before the game,’’ Zibanejad said. “Just try to block out those thoughts and try and fight the emotion a little bit by just going out there and playing. I thought we came out strong, [the Devils] took a couple penalties, we got the opportunities on the power play and capitalized on that, and got off to a good start and kind of put the game away a little bit in the first.’’
The Devils’ Kenny Agostino scored at 2:20 of the third period, but Brady Skjei’s first goal in 28 games made it 4-1 at 11:08. The Devils’ Andy Greene scored at 12:59 to make it 4-2, but Strome scored his second goal into an empty net with 19 seconds remaining.
Backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev made 19 saves for the Rangers, who outshot the Devils 34-21. Georgiev has won four of his last five starts.