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Zuccarello's emotional return spoiled late in overtime loss to Rangers

New York fan favorite is celebrated early but Minnesota can't hold another late lead as frustrating trend continues

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

NEW YORK -- It was a moment 20,000 people knew was coming from the time the puck dropped Monday night at Madison Square Garden.

It was a moment some nine months in the making. 

From the time the Wild's team bus pulled up to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers, it had the feel of something special. Lining the gates outside were dozens of Rangers No. 36 jerseys, each waiting to catch a glimpse of one of the most popular players to pull the famed blue sweater on.

Frank Sinatra said it best in his song, 'New York, New York': "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere ..."

After seeing the reaction of Rangers faithful on Monday night, it's safe to say Mats Zuccarello made it in New York. 

A late blown lead once again by the Wild spoiled Zuccarello's Manhattan homecoming in an eventual 3-2 overtime loss, but there was no question that Zuccarello's New York reception was a highlight the veteran winger may never forget.

Video: Locker room postgame at NY Rangers

"Right now, it's hard. But when you kind of see from a little further, a couple of days from now, it's real special," Zuccarello said. "It was emotional, for sure, in the beginning, in the first period and leading up to the game. Maybe more than [I] wanted to realize. It was great. Really nice and a good moment for me."

If it wasn't the fans waiting outside in his jersey, it was certainly the hundreds in the Wild's end during warmups before the game. As he walked down the tunnel and set foot on the ice, they rained down chants of, 'Zuuuuuuuuuuc,' every few minutes. 

As warmups concluded, Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman were he final players on the ice. As the two passed to each other, Hartman took a shot and exited the rink, leaving Zuccarello alone for a second or two. 

Tweet from @Ryan_Carter22: Zuccarello getting a nice applause as he leaves the ice for warmup. Certainly a fan favorite here in NYC.

The fans in attendance roared. With a quick wave, Zuccarello left and retreated back to the dressing room.

With the Rangers hosting their Hockey Fights Cancer night, it was a young cancer survivor who dropped the ceremonial first puck. 

Wild captain, normally the man who would take part in such a scenario, yielded to the one-time Rangers hero, gaining his first thunderous applause when his name was announced. 

Things quieted down, if only for a few moments, until Zuccarello jumped over the boards for the first time, and touched the puck for the first time. 

More 'Zuuuuuuuuuuuuuc.' 

Until one of the most remarkable celebrations most have seen for a player returning to his former home. As televisions faded to their first commercial break, players on both benches found their places on or near the bench to get a view of the in-arena scoreboard before the video tribute had even begun.

Even they knew they were about to see something special. 

Tweet from @NYRangers: Forever our favorite Norwegian. Thank you for the memories, Zucc!

The 1 minute, 20 second tribute video played numerous big goals over the years, embedded with dozens of photos of him off the ice and in the community. 

It mentioned his three Steven McDonald Extra Effort Awards he won, awarded annually to the Ranger who, as chosen by the fans, "goes above and beyond the call of duty."

The entire time, 20,000 fans clad in blue and red screamed from their feet. 

As the video concluded, Coldplay's "Fix You" strained from the speakers above and the camera showed Zuccarello on the Wild bench.

"I had to fight back some tears there," Zuccarello said. "I had a great relationship with everyone here for many years. Once again, I need to salute these guys. They were unbelievable to me. It was a really, really good moment for me and probably my family."

Tweet from @NYRangers: ZUUUUUUUUUUUCC

It was a memorable moment of closure for both Zuccarello and for Rangers fans. And after that, there was a hockey game to be played. 

Lakeville native Brady Skjei scored the only goal of the first period, while Zach Parise scored the only goal of the second, sending the contest to the final period tied at 1-1.

Video: MIN@NYR: Parise buries excellent pass from Fiala

At the exact halfway point of the third, Ryan Donato gave the Wild the lead on a nifty toe-drag move around a sliding defender, rifling a shot past Lundqvist; a true goal scorers goal if there ever was one.

"Me and [Wild assistant coach] Darby [Hendrickson] practice that one pretty much after every single practice," Donato said. "It's nice to see one finally pay off."

Video: MIN@NYR: Donato dekes past defender, rings home goal

The numbers haven't been there for Donato; the goal was only his second of the season. But it seems like his play has been trending in the right direction of late, and the hope is that the goal will only reinforce that.

"That's what he's got as a great thing is his shot," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "He had a great shot, he put it where he wanted to and that's good. I think it will do a lot for his confidence."

But clinging to a lead with just over three minutes to play, it was another poorly-timed penalty that ended up haunting the Wild. Ryan Hartman was seated for tripping and just 18 seconds elapsed before Chris Kreider banged home a loose puck in front to tie the game at 2-2. 

"It seems like, obviously, the confidence when we get to the last five minutes and overtime is not where it [needs to be]," Boudreau said. "We need a situation where we hold off and win those games."

Video: Boudreau postgame at NY Rangers

Just 32 seconds into overtime, defenseman Tony DeAngelo took a pass from Artemi Panarin and rifled a shot far side past Alex Stalock for the winner.

The pinned another tough-luck loss on Stalock, who was outstanding in making 28 saves but wasn't rewarded with a victory. 

"It's definitely very frustrating [that the goal wasn't the winner], not even for that. But I feel for Al, and a lot of the guys that play great minutes and work really hard," Donato said. "We just don't close. 

"You can't put that on any individual guy, but internally, we've gotta figure something out to make sure that we play a full entire game because we play great up until the very end and give away games."


Postgame Hat Trick: Rangers 3, Wild 2 (OT)

Video: MIN Recap: Zuccarello's return to MSG spoiled in OT

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