Mats Zuccarello was struck in the head by a Ryan McDonagh slap shot with roughly four and a half minutes to play in the first period of Game Five of the Rangers first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden. He left the game and did not return that night nor for the rest of the post-season due to a brain contusion, an injury so scary that Zuccarello was hospitalized for three days and was unable to speak for four.
“There was a small fracture, and I lost my talking and some feeling in my arm,” explained Zuccarello when he met with reporters at the team’s break-up day Monday afternoon at the MSG Training Center.
“Of course (I was scared). I couldn’t talk. It was scary, but the doctors were really good and made sure I knew that I’d be healthy. Now I go to speech therapy and I feel much better.”
Zuccarello’s good friend and teammate Derick Brassard visited him in the hospital shortly after the injury, one that left a major impression on the Rangers center.
“It was really scary to Zucc in the hospital, and he couldn’t even talk,” Brassard said on Monday. “It wasn’t easy (to see), but the doctors did a really good job of taking care of him We just need him to take this summer and make sure he’s 100 percent for next season.”
Chris Kreider said that what happened to Zuccarello, was “really upsetting”, but added that when the popular Norwegian was again around the team behind the scenes “it was pretty inspirational.”
Though he began skating with his teammates while wearing a non-contact jersey late in the Eastern Conference Final, Zuccarello said Monday he was unsure whether or not he would have been able to play in the Stanley Cup Final had New York moved past Tampa Bay. At the end of the day he said it wasn’t worth speculating because the team did not advance to the Final.
Many of Zuccarello’s teammates said on Monday that his presence on the ice was sorely missed and was a big reason the Rangers fell short of their goal in reaching the Final for a second consecutive season.
“Zucc was a huge loss,” stated linemate Rick Nash. “Those are huge shoes to fill. But we can’t be making excuses because we were missing one player.”
Added Brassard, “Zucc is a big part of this team and I think we really missed him, especially at this time of the year. He’s one of our top players.”
Zuccarello picked up a pair of assists in the opening round against the Penguins before missing the final 14 games of the post-season. During the regular season he scored 15 goals and totaled 49 points, a year after leading the team in scoring with a career-high 59 points.
The 27 year-old Zuccarello, whose injury has shown resolution, but is not yet completely healed, is expected to recover full in time for training camp next fall.
Team captain Ryan McDonagh met with the media Monday wearing a walking boot on his right foot and using a crutch to balance himself. McDonagh said that he broke the foot when struck by a shot in the middle of Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final down in Tampa.
“I didn’t see the puck coming,” explained McDonagh. “I just had to figure out a way to get through the rest of the period, and that third period was real tough. The rest of the way we did some things to help me. I tried my best and the team was really supportive.”
McDonagh was in major distress during warm-ups before Game Seven at The Garden on Friday, and had to be re-taped in the dressing room once the game began. He somehow managed to find a way to play more than 17 minutes.
“I had to simplify things,” said McDonagh. “I couldn’t be as aggressive offensively, and I had to manage my gaps really well defensively.”
Rangers’ defensemen Marc Staal and Keith Yandle also discussed their injuries on Monday. Staal suffered a hairline fracture of his ankle late in the regular season blocking a shot, but was able to play all 19 post-season games. Yandle suffered a sprained AC joint in the shoulder on a Blake Comeau hit during the first round against Pittsburgh, though he said that he felt better as the playoffs wore on and the shoulder actually healed more.
In addition defenseman Dan Girardi suffered a Grade One sprain of his MCL in Game Four against the Lightning, and will also need to have a minor procedure performed on his ankle to drain fluid that has built up.