Mats Zuccarello stands a modest 5-foot-7. He's a few inches taller on his skates, and gets an extra slimmer of reach wearing his hockey gloves.
He needed every inch of that reach on Wednesday.
Zuccarello made a key play at the blue line on the Rangers first goal, and New York staved off elimination behind a 40 save performance by Henrik Lundqvist in a 2-1 victory, forcing a Game 5 in this Stanley Cup Final.
With the Rangers facing elimination, Alain Vigneault shuffled the deck, putting Carl Hagelin on the top line with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan, and bumping Chris Kreider into Hagelin's spot. The major change came in the form of Brad Richards centering the fourth line, and Dominic Moore taking his place in the top six.
That newly formed fourth line drew the game's first penalty, as Brian Boyle won a faceoff, and Derek Dorsett took a high stick from Willie Mitchell behind the goal.
On the ensuing power play, it was Zuccarello who was able to leap and corral a clearing attempt at the blue line in the waning moments. The Rangers kept zone possession, and soon after Mitchell exited the box, John Moore fired a shot from the blue line that Benoit Pouliot deflected in the high slot for a 1-0 Rangers lead.
The score would remain the same through the rest of the first, before the Rangers got another to take an all-too-familiar two goal edge. New York was able to break out 3-on-2 with Stepan leading the rush.Kreider got a piece of his shot toward the net, before Martin St. Louis pounced on the rebound and put it past Quick for the taboo 2-0 lead.
Momentum stayed on the Rangers side, as Tyler Toffoli was called for a slash on the very next play following the goal to put the Rangers on the power play. But as Dan Girardi took a pass near the blue line, his stick broke, springing Dustin Brown on a breakaway. With only Lundqvist to beat, Brown deked through the crease and stuffed it home to cut the Kings deficit to 2-1.
From there, the Rangers went into a shell. The Kings began to dominate possession to the tune of a 27-3 shots on goal edge, but while the pace was frantic, and Los Angeles came close to finding an equalizer, Lundqvist and co. threw their bodies and anything they could in front of the puck to keep it out.
That included possibly the biggest play of the night from Stepan, who came to the rescue late in the third with the Kings pressing. An Alec Martinez shot off a faceoff win was deflected by Toffoli on its way in. While Lundqvist got enough of it, the hand of Stepan—and probably the Madison Square Garden ice—did the rest of the work, keep the rubber above the goal line.
"Obviously I just didn't want it to go in the net so I was just doing what I could to stop it," said Stepan. "After I pushed it back under [Lundqvist], I just didn't know where it's going or what is going to happen, so it was kind of a lucky play.
"I knew I couldn't put my hand on it, so I just used the side of my glove."
The Kings pressed in the final 1:11 with six skaters out after Stepan's heroics, but couldn't find the back of the net, and the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup game since 1994.
The series will now shift back to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Friday.