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FIRST ROUND

Zuccarello healthy for Stars, ready for Game 1 against Predators

Forward, recovered from broken arm, brings playoff experience to Dallas

by Jeff Miller / NHL.com Correspondent

FRISCO, Texas -- Mats Zuccarello hopes to play his first full game with the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN1, TVAS, FS-TN, FS-SW).

"I'm excited to get going tomorrow," Zuccarello said after the team's practice Tuesday before boarding the flight to Tennessee. "All I'm thinking is we've got to go in and play a hell of a game and have fun the first game and try to steal one away from home."

The 31-year-old forward was acquired Feb. 23 from the New York Rangers but has yet to play a full game for the Stars. Zuccarello was in uniform less than 24 hours after the trade and had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 win at the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 24 but sustained a broken arm blocking a shot in the second period and played only 13:35.

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Stars series coverage]

 

Zuccarello was lost for five weeks, unable to make his American Airlines Center debut in the Stars' next home game on March 5 against, coincidentally, the Rangers. He instead returned April 2 in a 6-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, a result that clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for Dallas. He had an assist on his second shift and played 18:23, leaving midway through the third period as a precaution because of an upper-body injury. 

Afterward, Stars coach Jim Montgomery called Zuccarello "the best passer on our team" that night. 

Zuccarello, who had 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in 48 games this season with the Stars and Rangers, practiced this week on a line with veteran Jamie Benn and rookie Roope Hintz. He also practiced on the first power-play unit.

"Roope's young, a lot of speed," Zuccarello said. "Jamie's a superstar, like one of the best in the league. It's exciting for me. Hopefully I can just create some energy, be good on the forecheck and help them out."

Zuccarello's offensive skill and tenacity on the ice will benefit the Stars and so, too, will his postseason experience. He has 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 60 career playoff games; 25 of those games were played in 2014, when the Rangers lost the Stanley Cup Final in five games to the Los Angeles Kings - one loss coming in overtime and two in double overtime. Zuccarello had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) during that run, including a goal in Game 2 at Los Angeles that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead in a 5-4 overtime loss.

"He's going to bring some calmness to our dressing room when tensions get high," Benn said.

An alternate captain in New York, Zuccarello won't be shy about speaking up around his new teammates during the heat of the playoffs.

"If I see something, I'll say. We're a team in here. We have to help each other," Zuccarello said. "It's more of stay positive. In the playoffs, hopefully you're going to be together for two months and you have to stay positive to each other and build each other up."

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