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Zuccarello's first NHL goal lifts Rangers past 'Canes

by Dave Lozo

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello called his first NHL goal a "lucky shot." The evidence doesn't support his claim.

The diminutive rookie curled in front of the net, waited for 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 New York Rangers a 2-1 victory Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

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

"I tried to get it high," Zuccarello said before recanting on his earlier statement. "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 the 5-foot-7, 174-pound Norwegian 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.

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.

"I don't think he saw it," Gilroy said of Ward's vision on his shot. "There were so many guys in front. I think everyone else except me was in front of the net."

Yet Zuccarello somehow found his teammate. 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," said Brandon Dubinsky, who assisted on both goals. "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.

Of course, Zuccarello wouldn't have had the chance to be the hero if not for two-plus periods of outstanding goaltending.

It looked like Ward and Lundqvist were going to take their goaltending duel deep into the night before Gilroy finally broke the scoreless tie.

Lundqvist came up big midway through the second period from point-blank range on 18-year-oldJeff Skinner, then got his left pad on the rebound try by Eric Staal, who later forced overtime by scoring on a rebound with 6:14 left in regulation.

With the Rangers on the power play later in the second period, the puck was deflected near the boards and squirted to Marc Staal in the slot. Eric's younger brother stepped into a rocket of a one-timer, but Ward snagged it with his catching glove.

Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice had high praise for the Staal brothers.

"Aside from the goaltenders, the next-best players have the same last name," Maurice said. "I think he's one of the best defensive defensemen in the game. Marc Staal is a dominant, physical force that can jump up in the play. Two powerful men playing against each other and two great goaltenders. Those four guys alone are worth the price of admission."

Lundqvist's busiest period was the first, when he made 13 saves. Ward had to make 15 stops during the second period.

Ward saved his best for early in the third period, when he stopped Dubinsky and Derek Stepan in succession from just outside his crease.

But it was Lundqvist who came out on top in what was by far the best goaltending battle at MSG this season.

"The pressure's on," Lundqvist said, "but I don't mind it. Halfway through I knew it was going to be a tight game, a low-scoring game. So it was important to stay focused. I felt like the first goal would be important."

Not as important -- or memorable -- as the last goal.

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

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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