John Tortorella may have had the best take on Mats Zuccarello, a.k.a., the “Norwegian Hobbit,” the five-foot-seven former MVP of the Swedish Elite League who made his NHL debut last night: “He’s an interesting cat, isn’t he?” He sure is, be it staring down six-foot-six Victor Hedman in the third period, or scoring a nifty goal to keep last night’s shootout alive. (Tortorella seemed to particularly enjoy the latter from the bench, having selected Zuccarello — who apparently doesn’t like his nickname — to be among his first three shooters.) Unfortunately, for the Rangers, that fun shootout kept going and going, on to an eleventh round in which Ryan Malone beat Henrik Lundqvist to secure the 4–3 Tampa Bay victory.
The Rangers had allowed regulation goals to each of the Lightning’s Big Three: Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier — the first two of which resulted from sloppy first-period turnovers. (Shootout participant Michal Rozsival — it’s not every day you can describe him as such, though we’re not entirely sure why he shot as early as he did — was responsible for the first of those, with Dan Girardi on the hook for the second, an absolute laser of a shot by Stamkos.)
But the Rangers (who, we should note, got a goal last night from Alexander Frolov, which makes five points in five games from the previously invisible winger) once again proved to be a difficult team to put away, and 11:18 into the third, Derek Stepan tied the score on a beautiful goal in which he pulled the puck around Tampa goalie Dan Ellis and executed a forehand-backhand-forehand maneuver from behind the goal line to slide the puck into the net. (On the ice for that goal, by the way: Stepan, Zuccarello, Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Sauer, and Matt Gilroy, none of whom have played a game for any other NHL team. We love it when that happens.) After the game, the Rangers sent Zuccarello back to the minors, where he’ll play for the Connecticut Whale on Sunday. But there’s little doubt he’ll be back at some point, perhaps even in time for Monday’s post-holiday contest against the Islanders.