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Zuccarello already coming up big for Rangers

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello was bestowed the nickname, "The Hobbit," because of his small stature and resemblance to those characters from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

The 5-foot-7, 174-pounder from Norway isn't a fan of the moniker -- and who would be? -- but after scoring his first NHL goal for the New York Rangers on Wednesday night, Zuccarello might be known for something other than his size.

The rookie curled in front of the net, waited for Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward to drop and, from just outside the crease, fired a shot into the top of the net with 1:51 left in overtime to give the Rangers a 2-1 victory and whip the Madison Square Garden crowd into a frenzy.

It was a picture-perfect shot that beat a goaltender that looked invincible at times -- and it was anything but lucky.

"I tried to get it high," Zuccarello said. "Let's just say it was not lucky. It's unbelievable. Not only to get my first goal but to win it for my team, it's a great feeling."

The Rangers signed Zuccarello this summer after his standout performance during the 2010 Winter Olympics. He opened the season in the AHL, but has 1 goal and 2 assists in six games since being called up before the Christmas break.

He hasn't that hard a time adjusting to the NHL life.

"It's great. My teammates up here and coaches help me a lot, talk to me all the time," Zuccarello said. "You get so much help. That gives you confidence. If I have something I wonder, I can talk to the coaching staff, I can talk to the guys. They're so humble and try to help me to play well. That's been unbelievable for me."

Zuccarello helped break a scoreless tie at 8:41 of the third period when he made a great pass from behind the net to defenseman Matt Gilroy in the slot. Gilroy fired a wrist shot to the stick side of Ward to put the Rangers up 1-0.

Somehow, Zuccarello found his teammate through a mass of humanity in front of the net. It's that type of talent that has the Rangers salivating at his potential.

"Not just tonight, we've been seeing it for a few games. I think he's a good player. He's definitely going to help our team," forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "He's got so much talent and ability and if he keeps his legs moving the way he has the last few games, he's going to be really special for us.

"I think the best part about him is he's always asking questions. He just wants to learn."

Maybe teammates should be the ones asking Zuccarello questions -- like how does one go about scoring a goal like the one he roofed on Ward. Coach John Tortorella said he's not sure if anyone else on the team has the ability to score that type of goal.

"You hope he scores another one. He is a confident kid," Tortorella said. "Creative people need that. He should feel good about it. We got the two points we needed."

Tortorella wasn't only rendered almost speechless by Zuccarello's goal. He also took special note of the celebration that followed.

"You know what I liked? It wasn't an individual celebration," Tortorella said. "He got excited, but then looked right to the bench. He's a likable kid. He's a really likable kid. I don't know where it all settles here, but good for him."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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