On breakup day, the biggest news came from Mats Zuccarello who revealed that he suffered a brain contusion and small head fracture after taking a Ryan McDonagh shot to the helmet in the third period of Game 5 against the Penguins in the first round. As it turned out, the rumors were true. The severity of the injury even prevented him from speaking for a while.
“I had a small fracture in my head,” Zuccarello told the media at the Rangers practice facility in Greenburgh. “I lost my talking and some feeling in my arm. I was in the hospital for three days. I couldn’t talk for a while, there was some blood on my brain. That affects a lot.
“I feel much better and I’m going to be getting better and better,” he said. “It will still take longer to recover but, come the season time next time, I should be ready to go.”
Prior to their elimination, Zuccarello was skating with the team but hadn’t been cleared for physical contact. He said it was unlikely he would’ve been able to return had they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. Had they made it, that’s the last thing I would’ve wanted. His long-term health is a lot more important. That you even had fans asking if he’d be back was unrealistic. I was told by a little birdie of the seriousness of his injury. So, I never expected him back.
Encouraging is that it looks like Zuccarello should make a full recovery. There were even doubts that he’d ever play again. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like we’ve seen the last of him. Don’t forget Zuccarello re-signed before the deadline. He’ll earn an average cap hit of $4.5 million over the next four years. If he were done, that would’ve been a huge blow. Assuming he’s back at 100 percent, he moves right back into the top six.
“You wanted to try to communicate with him but it was a challenge for him,” hobbled captain Ryan McDonagh said who was in a walking boot on crutches due to a broken right foot. “It was tough to see a very close friend and a big part of our team go down that way, in that fashion. We sorely missed him for sure in the playoffs.”
McDonagh is expected to be in a boot for four weeks. One wonders what he would’ve had left to contribute if the team had made it. Considering how banged up the blueline was, it’s hard to have seen them having much left against the Blackhawks.
It was revealed that Marc Staal played with a hairline fracture in his ankle which was sustained at the end of the regular season. That better explains why he struggled mightily. The key second pair shutdown defenseman wasn’t the same getting victimized often and falling down. How he even played is beyond me. His ice-time was cut down by coach Alain Vigneault.
So too was Dan Girardi’s and for good reason. He played the final three games with a Grade 1 MCL strain. There was no question he wasn’t as effective. The previous round during the comeback against Washington, he was brilliant. Of course, you had ‘experts’ suggesting trading him. If you unloaded his contract, who exactly slots in next to McDonagh? It is puzzling how Danny G always gets bashed. The Rangers’ Iron Man is so vital. He’s a first pair right-handed shutdown D. Those don’t grow on trees.
Keith Yandle admitted that he suffered a shoulder AC joint injury in the first round on Blake Comeau’s hard hit in Game 2. Remember how much he struggled? Clearly, he improved leaps and bounds in the Conference Final becoming the team’s most consistent D. Yandle led the blueline with seven points (1-6-7) against the Lightning and went 2-9-11 plus-seven in 19 postseason games.
What does it all mean? Just that the Blueshirts weren’t as lucky this Spring. Last year, they were mostly healthy with Chris Kreider returning for Game 4 of the second round against the Penguins. They weren’t as banged around rallying from a 3-1 deficit and then ousting the Canadiens in six in advancing to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
Henrik Lundqvist always talks about how you have to get the bounces and have luck during the postseason. Despite winning the President’s Trophy and setting team records in wins (53) and points (113), they fell short of their ultimate goal. Derick Brassard admitted that it was “a ___ way” to end the year getting shutout at MSG.
Lundqvist reiterated that. The 33-year old franchise netminder finished five wins short with the team of winning that elusive Cup. Aside from Martin St. Louis who probably will be a cap casualty, they should have most of the roster back.
That’s gonna do it. Another year ends for the Blueshirts. One that was still pretty special. When you think about what they accomplished following Lundqvist’s scary injury, they achieved plenty. The team rallied around great backup Cam Talbot coming back to win a division and finish with the league’s best record for the first time since ’93-94.
They fought hard showing the resiliency that’s made them one of the toughest outs in rallying from a 3-1 deficit against the Capitals which included Kreider’s tying goal and McDonagh’s Game 5 winner along with Derek Stepan’s overtime clincher in Game 7. They didn’t quite have enough to beat the Lightning who now will play the Blackhawks. It’s still an empty feeling. But just think how the players and coaches feel. They’ll have to live with it and prepare even harder for 2015-16. The goal remains the same.