The traffic from Norway on the Rangers’ official web site is up 8 percent from last year thanks to the arrival of forward Mats Zuccarello. Advice: Add some servers today.
The creative, diminutive 23-year-old ended a phenomenal goaltenders’ duel last night by roofing the game-winner from an impossible angle to the left of Cam Ward at 3:09 of overtime that lifted the Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden.
“I watch a lot of NHL games and I see a lot of guys score from there,” said Zuccarello, who finished an end-to-end rush from Brandon Dubinsky by circling the net and zipping the puck over Ward’s left shoulder for his first goal in his sixth NHL game. “He uses a stick longer than mine and he just whipped it,” said Dubinsky, a workhorse all night who also set up Matt Gilroy’s goal that broke a scoreless tie at 8:41 of the third. “I don’t know if he makes that shot ten out of ten, but I like his chances more than mine,”
Zuccarello, who is about 5-foot-6, was in on that one as well, finding Gilroy in the slot with a pass from behind the net. “I saw him and Stepan and just closed my eyes and passed it,” said Zuccarello, who played for the Norwegian Olympic team and starred in the Swedish Elite League before signing a deal with the Rangers last May.
His size didn’t hinder him there and last night, dealt with the issue with aplomb. “I've been like this for 23 years,” he said. “I've had a long time to practice being short. I don't know what it is to be big.”
For the Rangers (23-15-3, 49 points), the two points certainly were big, as they rose to coach John Tortorella’s challenge to “get a jump on the mindset” to play harder and grittier for the second half of the season, which begins Friday in Dallas.
“I think we got a little bit of our personality back and the style we wanted to play,” said Tortorella. I thought Ward (33 saves) was outstanding.” Lundqvist, with 31 saves, was just a tad better. “Halfway through I knew it was going to be a tight game because he was playing well on his end,” said Lundqvist, who is 10-4-2 with a 1.78 GAA in his last 16 games. “I thought (Gilroy’s goal) was a game-winner, but they came back.”
Eric Staal won a faceoff in the right circle and Lundqvist made a save on Joe Corvo’s low shot from the point, but Staal charged the net, losing Brian Boyle, and potted the rebound at 13:46 of the third to tie it.
The Rangers left Florida with one point in two weekend games and needed a jolt. Enter Zuccarello, who has skill and a touch of humility. “I like that it wasn’t an individual celebration,” said Tortorella. “He got excited and looked to the bench. He is a confident kid. He asks the right questions. He goes about his business. You hope he scores another one.”
The Rangers have scored more goals than at this juncture last season, but will need plenty more as Tortorella, assessing the Eastern Conference, predicted “a dogfight” for the playoffs. “Our team has to be better than we were the first half,” he said, “if we want to have a chance.”