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OT loss comes with pleasant surprise

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Norway's Mats Zuccarello made his NHL debut and played effectively on the team's top line with Derek Stepan and Brandon Dubinsky. Zuccarello also scored one of two Rangers goals in the shootout.

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Zuccarello Returned to Connecticut

By Jim Cerny,

Although he was sent back down to the minor leagues immediately after playing in his first NHL game for the Rangers on Thursday night, Mats Zuccarello made quite the impression on the team’s head coach John Tortorella.

That is why Tortorella could not contain a smile from creasing his face following Thursday’s contest at Madison Square Garden with the Tampa Bay Lightning, despite the fact that the Rangers dropped a 4-3 decision in a game decided after 11 rounds of the shootout.

“I give the kid high marks,” Tortorella said of Zuccarello’s much-anticipated NHL debut. “You can see his creativity and you can see his skill. And skill is something this team needs as we continue to build it. He is an interesting one for us. He was really good.”

Zuccarello, 23, was recalled from the Connecticut Whale on Wednesday to take the place of Marian Gaborik -- who was unable to play against the Lightning due to a sore groin. The diminutive scoring sensation from Norway proceeded to dazzle often with slick passes and scoring chances throughout the game on Thursday.

Although held off the scoresheet while playing 17:50 in his debut, Zuccarello did pull the Rangers even 2-2 in the third round of the shootout by beating Tampa netminder Dan Ellis with a scintillating move and finish.

“I came in here pretty nervous and thinking a little too much, but as the game went on I got more and more the feel of it,” said Zuccarello, who skated on a line with Derek Stepan and Brandon Dubinsky. “My game was OK. I got a lot of help from Dubi and (Sean) Avery and guys talking to me telling me what to do. I felt good about that.”

Rangers rookies Michael Sauer and Derek Stepan celebrate Stepan's remarkable goal at 11:18 of the third period. Stepan's tally from a nearly impossible angle tied the game up at 3-3 and forced overtime.
Despite his impressive first game with the Rangers, Zuccarello was told afterwards by Tortorella that he was being sent back down to Connecticut to play in the Whale’s game on Sunday. What happens after that is still up for debate as Gaborik is expected to return to the Blueshirts’ lineup in the team’s next game Monday against the Islanders at MSG.

“I just talked to him and told him that he played a really good game, did a really good job, but you’re going down because we want you playing on the 26th, and he wants to play,” Tortorella explained after the game. “It’s up to me and (Glen Sather) and (Jim Schoenfeld) to sit down and figure out what we do.”

The Rangers erased a 1-0 deficit two minutes into the game, as well as a 3-2 deficit in the third period, to earn another important point in the standings despite trailing entering the final period of play. On the season, the Rangers have earned an impressive 10 points in the 14 games they have trailed entering the third period, posting a 4-8-2 record in such contests after Thursday’s rally.

A pair of Rangers turnovers on to the stick of Tampa’s slick Martin St. Louis accounted for a pair of Lightning goals that bookended the first period. St. Louis turned Michal Rozsival’s giveaway into his 14th goal at the two-minute mark of the first period, and then with 1:06 to play in the opening stanza St. Louis’ steal led directly to a Steven Stamkos goal -- his 27th -- which tied the game 2-2.

In between those two Lightning goals were a pair of lightning-quick scores by the Blueshirts. Ruslan Fedotenko broke his stick, yet managed to slip a shot past Ellis on the short side at 11:16; and 12 seconds later Alex Frolov netted his seventh goal by converting a rebound of Artem Anisimov’s strong move to the net.

“We gave them a couple early, made a couple huge mistakes to people you don’t want to mistakes to, but territorially and how we wanted to play, I am very happy,” said Tortorella.

Vincent Lecavalier scored from in front with 5:18 to go in the second period to put the Rangers back in a one-goal hole. But Stepan scored a simply gorgeous goal by patiently holding on to the puck as Ellis went down to the ice and then fired a shot from along the left goal line that hit the far post and bounced into the cage with 8:42 left in the third period to tie the game.

Alex Frolov scores the Rangers' second goal in a 12-second span of the first period Thursday night. The goal, which gave the Blueshirts a 2-1 lead at 11:28 of the first, was Frolov's seventh of the season..
“That’s kind of been our bread and butter, making these third-period comebacks,” said Stepan, who now has 10 goals on the season, tied for second among all NHL rookies. “That’s been our go-to lately, playing hard in the third and finding away to get points. The biggest thing (Thursday) was that we kept tilting the ice on them and took over in the third.”

When the score remained tied 3-3 after 60 minutes of regulation and another five minutes of overtime, the two teams headed to the shootout where Tampa Bay answered Erik Christensen’s first-round score with back-to-back tallies by Victor Hedman and Adam Hall.

Zuccarello pulled the Rangers even by scoring in the shootout’s third round, and from there Henrik Lundqvist and Ellis traded save after save until the 11th round.

In what turned out to be the final round of the shootout, Ellis denied Marc Staal with a pad save, and Ryan Malone followed by hammering a shot off the crossbar and over the goal line behind Lundqvist to propel the Lightning to the victory.

“When you lose in the shootout, as a goalie you take it pretty personally,” said Lundqvist, who finished with 21 saves, including three in overtime. “Points are huge in the end, and I wanted to make that extra stop to get the win. It was very frustrating at the end.”

The Rangers now have two complete days off for the Christmas holiday before resuming practice on Sunday and returning to game action on Monday at The Garden against the Islanders. The club hits the break with 42 points, which is good for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
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