Since taking a Ryan McDonagh shot to the side of his helmet in Game 5 of the first round, Mats Zuccarello has been out with a concussion. During his time off, there have been all sorts of rumors about his future. At this point, that’s just speculation.
In Game 5 of the second round with the Rangers facing elimination, MSG showed him on the big screen to loud cheers and chants of “Zuuuucccc, Zuuuuccccc!!!!!” His teammates rallied back to beat the Caps in stunning fashion.
Prior to Saturday’s start of the Conference Final, coach Alain Vigneault didn’t give much of an update on Zuccarello. It would be shocking if he was back. That said, he has begun light workouts. For the first time since the “upper body injury,” he skated today.
It’s positive that Zuccarello returned to the ice and took a twirl as his coach mentioned while acknowledging he’s going through he process of getting healthy. There’s still no timetable for his return. My guess is you probably won’t see him again this postseason.
The Rangers have gotten to this point despite losing one of their most valuable forwards. No one can deny Zuccarello’s combination of speed, creativity and compete. He is all heart. Vigneault has had to mix up his lines. After going with Martin St. Louis on the second line last round, he shifted rookie Kevin Hayes up to Derick Brassard and Rick Nash while moving St. Louis to the third line with Game 1 hero Dominic Moore and Carl Hagelin. It worked with both lines getting sustained forecheck pressure and generating chances.
Vigneault deserves plenty of credit for adjusting his lineup accordingly. Since moving Moore up to the third line and having J.T. Miller play with James Sheppard and Tanner Glass on the fourth line, it’s given them more balance. Vigneault wisely used the top line of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Jesper Fast with shutdown tandem Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi against the Lightning’s Triplets line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. They were able to limit their chances at even strength. Palat scored the lone goal on the power play off a Johnson pass.
Without Zuccarello, it’ll continue to be a challenge for Vigneault and his team. The Blueshirts have done it by getting contributions from everyone. With Nash stuck on two goals and St. Louis still without one, it’s taken a total team effort to reach this point. That’ll continue when they take to the Garden ice for Game 2 tonight at 8 PM with a chance to go up two games to none. As we know, history hasn’t been kind to the Rangers at home in Game 2. They’ll look to buck the trend later.