‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Mats Zuccarello scored a sensational shootout goal that helped lift the Rangers to a crucial overtime win in the Blueshirts’ quest toward locking down a spot in the playoffs. Before the game, head coach John Tortorella challenged Zuccarello.
“He’s got to score,” Tortorella demanded in his pregame press conference.
The 5-foot-7 Norwegian stepped up in the pressured atmosphere of the shootout and delivered under the spotlight by beating Toronto Maple Leafs net-minder James Reimer through the five hole.
“It feels great. Seeing it go in was a good feeling there, it’s about time. I’m just happy to help the team get two points,” Zuccarello said following the Rangers’ 3-2 victory over the Leafs.
Reimer is nicknamed “Optimus Reim” for a reason. Toronto’s goalie has been an imposing force between the pipes for the Leafs this season and was in fine form on Wednesday night, fending off flurries of Rangers chances.
It was critical for the Rangers to take maximum points as even one could prove the difference between being a six-seed as opposed to an eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference — or could prove to be the difference between making the playoffs and an early summer vacation.
“He’s probably the best shootout player in the league,” teammate Carl Hagelin said of Zuccarello, who is a career 6-for-12 marksman in the shootout.
Henrik Lundqvist and other teammates have poked fun at Zuccarello’s stature by deeming him “The Hobbit.” Good-natured joking aside, the diminutive, yet grinding winger is seen as a difference-maker and an improved player since returning from the KHL.
The tallest Ranger, 6-foot-7 Brian Boyle views Zuccarello as an improved player from years past. Zuccarello is playing with a greater edge and without fear in his third stint as a Ranger.