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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
One day, when he has retired from hockey and is back home in Norway reminiscing about his professional career, Mats Zuccarello
is sure to recall fondly the first goal he scored in the National Hockey League. And those listening to his tale might shake their heads -- thinking that Zuccarello most definitely was exaggerating some of the details.
But the thing is, when it comes to Zuccarello’s first NHL goal, reality clearly trumps almost any fiction he could conjure up.
On Wednesday night at a sold-out and rollicking Madison Square Garden, Zuccarello scored the game-winning overtime goal -- his first in the NHL -- to lead the Rangers to an impressive 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Good for him,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “He’s a real likable kid, and he should feel real good about it because it’s a huge two points for us and it was a big goal by him. I am sure he’s real excited about it.”
Zuccarello scored the goal after some gritty hard-nosed work behind the Hurricanes net by Brandon Dubinsky
. Battling ferociously for control of the puck, Dubinsky was able to slip the disc over to Zuccarello, who was also behind the goal line.
The talented young Norwegian swung out from the right-wing goal line, spun to face ‘Canes goalie Cam Ward, and proceeded to whistle a perfectly-placed shot just under the crossbar 3:09 into overtime for the game-winner.
“Me being able to secure a win like this for the team is just an unbelievable feeling,” said Zuccarello, 23. “I haven’t been here that long, so scoring a goal for me is just a great feeling.”
|Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy gets a big hug from Brandon Dubinsky after scoring the game's first goal. Gilroy beat previously impenetrable Carolina netminder Cam Ward at 8:41 of the third period. |
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Zuccarello, who is playing his first season in North America after leading the Swedish Elite League in scoring a year ago, played his sixth game in the NHL on Wednesday, and it was clearly his best and most successful. Along with the game-winning goal, he also assisted on Matt Gilroy’s score in the third period, fired three shots on goal, and created numerous scoring chances with his highly-skilled play.
“Zucs is the kind of guy who’s going to get dirty, get in there and find pucks,” said Dubinsky, who had two assists. “He gets in there, finds a puck, and puts it right underneath the bar. You can’t say enough about it. That’s a heckuva’ shot.”
As The Garden erupted into a deafening playoff-like roar -- fitting for this game played on a playoff level by both teams -- Zuccarello threw his arms up in the air and immediately looked to his teammates who were charging down the ice to swarm their 5-foot-7 hero. A prolonged group hug took place by the Carolina bench as Zuccarello was engulfed by the mass of his 19 teammates.
“I just saw the puck go in and there was this unbelievable rush,” said Zuccarello. “The fans were cheering, and I see my teammates jumping. It was just a great feeling. I can’t say anything more than that.”
The overtime goal capped an exciting, well-played game as the Rangers hit the official midpoint of the season, playing in their 41st game. The victory put the team’s overall record at 23-15-3, with their 49 points moving them into sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Rangers are now 10-8-2 on home ice after a slow start, including a current 4-0-1 run. And they are a very impressive 10-2-3 in games decided by one goal.
“It was a pretty good 60-minute effort, a really good game for us,” said Dubinsky. “It was nice to find an extra point there in overtime because we certainly deserved it the way we played today.”
|Henrik Lundqvist had an outstanding game with 31 saves in the OT win, but he got a lot of help from players like Dan Girardi who made sure that even more Carolina shots didn't make it through to him. |
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Goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist
and Cam Ward traded save for save for nearly 49 minutes in a sensational duel before the Rangers finally broke through with the game’s first goal. Dubinsky again did the grunt work behind the goal line, and this time Zuccarello slid a pass into the high slot -- past Derek Stepan
, but right onto the stick of Gilroy.
Wasting no time, Gilroy released a quick shot that beat Ward to the stick side at 8:41 of the third period to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
“When you are confident, there is no hesitation, you just reach back and shoot,” said Gilroy, who has scored all three of his goals this season over his last four appearances. “Zucs put it out front -- I think he was looking for Steps -- but I was right there and there was so much traffic in front I don’t think the goalie ever saw it. And it was great to see Zucs get his first one later. An overtime winner is a pretty cool first NHL goal.”
Carolina’s Eric Staal beat Brian Boyle
to a rebound and converted it into the tying goal at 13:46, his team-high 19th of the season. That was the only blemish on Lundqvist’s ledger as he finished with 31 saves. Ward turned aside 34 shots for Carolina.
“Both goalies played very well,” said Tortorella. “It’s key how Hank played. It just gives our team a chance. You hope the other team makes a mistake and you score, or someone makes a big play.”
Having secured an important two points in dramatic fashion, the Rangers return to the road this weekend. They will first visit the Dallas Stars on Friday night before skating against the St. Louis Blues 24 hours later.