Zuccarello repeats as Steven McDonald winner on emotional night for Rangers and New Yorkers


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In an emotional final home game of the regular season, the Rangers salute the fans at MSG on what shall be known as Steven McDonald Night. Mats Zuccarello won the Extra Effort Award presented by son Conor and Mom Patti-Ann. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

On the final night of the regular season, it was emotional for Patti-Ann and her son, Sergeant Conor McDonald. They are the heartbeat of this city. On hand at Madison Square Garden for the last home game the Rangers won over the Penguins 3-2, they were there to honor a loving husband and father. Steven McDonald meant a lot to so many people. He was a true hero fighting crime as a police detective for the NYPD.

It was thirty-one years ago that Mr. McDonald was shot in the line of duty by a teenager paralyzing him from the neck down. He became a quadriplegic. For over 30 years, he valiantly fought for what was right while forgiving Shavod Jones, who would later publicly apologize for the shooting that left Steven McDonald in a wheelchair reliant on a ventilator. He wasn’t only a survivor but a winner. Someone who did so much good for New York City and the community.

It was during the 1987-88 season that the Rangers established the first ever Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in recognition of the player who goes above and beyond the call of duty. They were presented with a check for $25,000 which went to the Steven McDonald Foundation raising awareness and money for spinal cord injuries.

It has always been the one award that humbled me and gave me chills up and down my neck and spine. Many players have won it. Past recipients include first ever winner Jan Erixon, Tony Granato, John Vanbiesbrouck and Kelly Kisio, Jan Erixon, Adam Graves, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Wayne Gretzky, Sandy McCarthy, Matt Barnaby, Jed Ortmeyer, Henrik Lundqvist, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Prust, Mats Zuccarello and Cam Talbot.

With Steven McDonald no longer around to present the prestigious award, the baton has been passed to son Conor. With an emotional Mom sobbing during a touching pregame ceremony, he spoke from the heart just like his Dad. This year’s winner is Zuccarello. He’s a repeat winner and it’s his third overall in four years.

For the second straight season, the gritty and skilled pint sized Norwegian led the Rangers in scoring finishing with 59 points (15-44-59). When he won, he skated over and gave Patti-Ann a huge hug and then embraced Conor to familiar “Zucc!!!!! Zucc!!!!!” chants from the crowd. The 29-year old is beloved for how hard he plays the game. He has a huge heart. It’s why he’s such a fan favorite. Congrats to Mats on winning.

From a personal standpoint, I voted for J.T. Miller. I felt he was deserving. I am sure he got a lot of votes. I’ll bet Antti Raanta did too. I imagine Jesper Fast got some too. He’ll never win the award but he was recognized by the team as the Player’s Player again. An award he deserved. He’ll never put up the biggest stats. But Fast is more than that. He’s grit and intangibles along with hustle, doing the things that win games. Remember Ryan McDonagh’s overtime winner from Derek Stepan against the Caps in an elimination Game 5 in 2015 second round? It was Fast who got in on the forecheck to force a turnover and get the puck across to Stepan, who dropped for McDonagh’s blast in a series they ultimately came back and won.

Team MVP went to McDonagh, who finally returned for Game 82. He was sharp scoring a goal and assisting on Stepan’s power play goal. A positive development for the Rangers. If they’re to have any chance, they need the captain to deliver against the Canadiens. Lundqvist used to win MVP religiously. It looks like the torch has been passed.

Regarding Zuccarello, I love him. He’s always willing to sacrifice for the team. He plays so much bigger than his generously listed 5-7, 179 frame. Zucc doesn’t back away from anyone and is willing to go to the net. He’ll need to be a royal pain in the butt against Carey Price along with a few other Blueshirts. Most notably Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Miller and Fast. Tanner Glass does that dirty work too if he is in the lineup.

I have no problem with Zuccarello winning the Extra Effort Award again. I just felt it was Miller’s turn. I remember once thinking Stepan deserved it but they gave it to Callahan. Everyone in our section knew Stepan should’ve won. It doesn’t matter. The fans and players appreciate the award and its significance.

As you may have suspected, there’s no recap. I didn’t really watch. It was just the final game. Even Sidney Crosby was scratched by the Pens and they played their third string goalie. Kreider got a night off as did Kevin Hayes, which hasn’t been much different from how he’s played. I sure hope the switch goes on for Hayes whenever the first round starts. They need him.

Alain Vigneault had McDonagh with Dan Girardi, Marc Staal with Nick Holden while Brady Skjei worked with Kevin Klein. Is this what we’re gonna see in Game 1? I don’t want Brendan Smith sitting for Klein. He should be in. Hopefully, it was just a day off. Nothing more.

Magnus Hellberg made the start and congrats to him on winning his first NHL start. He made 22 saves. Just one other note. The right players showed up on the score sheet. Mika Zibanejad picked up too more assists. He finished strong. That’s a big plus. He’s looking much better. He assisted on Jimmy Vesey’s 16th for the game-winner. Even Michael Grabner had a point, assisting on McDonagh’s goal at even strength.

The good part is it’s finally over. It starts up for real in a couple of days. I’m thinking Wednesday. When the official playoff schedule is released, I’ll post it.

I’ll leave with this great interview with the beautiful Amanda Borges interviewing Conor McDonald during the game. Excellent stuff.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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