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Mats Zuccarello: an expert on beating improbable odds

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"A lot of people said, ‘He’s a good player, but he’s not going to make it because he’s too short, he’s too small. Back home in Norway, from juniors to when I played on an elite team, people said I wasn’t going to make it. Got a chance to go play in Sweden: not gonna make it. From Sweden to here, the NHL? The same thing. All my life it’s been that way. Ever since I was little."

After a beat, those last words sink in. "Well, I’m still little," he says, smirking. "Ever since I was young."

Mats Zuccarello, via Ben Reiter and Sports Illustrated, on his size - before getting into the consequences of the slapshot he took to the head a year ago.

The rest of the piece is an emotional journey through the aftermath of that time. It's one thing to say that Zuccarello lost his speech; it's another entirely to be standing in the shoes of someone witnessing that firsthand, with no idea if he would be able to recover or not.

But he did. So if there's anyone who knows anything about improbable comebacks, it's definitely Mats Zuccarello.

'Don't even look at Hank on game day'

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Outside of Scott Stevens, Hank is the fiercest competitor I’ve ever played with. He’s so dialled in. I mean, there are a lot of goalies in the league who you just don’t talk to on game day. But when I got to New York, it was a different level. I remember them telling me, "Don’t even look at Hank on game day. Literally, don’t. He’s locked in. Leave him be."

Mike Rupp, via The Players' Tribune, on Henrik Lundqvist

When Rupp joined the Rangers, he got to see the inner-workings of one of the best goalies in the world up close. And Lundqvist is a whole other level of intense.

He calls him the "x-factor" for this playoff series, and considering how Rupp played on both the Rangers and Penguins, he probably knows. If anyone can will a team to anything, it's probably Lundqvist.

Keith Yandle clearly feels a lot of pride in being a Ranger

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But suddenly I was walking out of the tunnel at MSG for the first time as a Ranger. And I was so happy. During the renovation, the Garden added this glass tunnel that players walk through before getting to the ice. Fans can push right up against the glass and watch you going out for battle. I remember hearing some of the fans shouting my name, and I turned and saw some little kids in Rangers jerseys banging on the glass. I was so pumped up.

That was when I first realized that, for New Yorkers, Rangers hockey is more than just a fun evening. When kids are born into Rangers families, their first outfit is usually a Blueshirt onesie. I’ve never seen anything like the generational Rangers fandom, and that’s saying a lot coming from a guy who grew up in Boston.

Keith Yandle, via the Players' Tribune

That's just one snippet of what's essentially a massive love letter to New York. Imagine going from Arizona to the Rangers - because evidently, the shift was so intense Yandle couldn't help but fall in love instantly.

The story of his helicopter ride in is particularly awesome; what other organization can do that?

Yandle's gotta stay. He's just gotta - this is clearly where he was meant to play.

Antti Raanta finished the season strong

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Raanta finished the season by winning seven of his last eight starts (beginning with a victory at Toronto on February 18) and in each of those wins he allowed only one or two goals.

Elias Sports Bureau, Inc. via ESPN

That one loss was pretty rough - a 6-4 loss to the Islanders back on March 6 that saw him let in five goals on 31 shots - but other than that, Antti Raanta has been stellar. Over the seven other starts, he's let in 12 goals, total.

The Rangers needed a new backup when they traded Cam Talbot. How did Antti Raanta work out? Pretty well, evidently - the net isn't an area the Rangers have to worry about at all.

Look at all these 20 goal scorers on the Rangers

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Kreider and Stepan are the fourth and fifth players to reach the 20-goal mark for the Rangers this season, after Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and J.T. Miller previously did so. The Rangers have matched the most 20-goal scorer scorers they've had in any of the last 14 seasons. They also had five in 2006-07 (Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander, Petr Prucha, Brendan Shanahan, Martin Straka) and 2010-11 (Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik, and Stepan, who scored 21 goals as a rookie; it was his only previous 20-goal season in the NHL).

Elias Sports Bureau, Inc., via ESPN

Can the Rangers make it six 20-goal scorers? Maybe - Rick Nash has three games to score five goals to get there. If he'd been healthy throughout the season, that might have already happened!

In 2006-07, the Rangers had one 30-goal scorer: Jagr. In 2010-11, Dubinsky had the most goals with 24. This season, Brassard leads the way with 27 goals, while Zuccarello is right behind him with 26. There's a faint possibility the Rangers could close out the year with two 30-goal scorers, but the clock's ticking, in that case.

Either way, this is actually one of the more impressive years the Rangers have had in terms of goal-scoring depth. Hopefully that carries through to the playoffs; Henrik Lundqvist would probably appreciate it.

Eric Staal reflects on the change from Carolina to New York

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If I did have to move teams, I couldn’t have asked for a better organization to join than the Rangers. I’ve played against them so many times, so I know exactly how good they are.

In Carolina, my job was to lead. Now in New York, my job is fitting in. They were playing good hockey before I got here, and now I just want to do whatever I can to add to that. That’s been a day-by-day process for me. Yes, it’s different, but it’s also really refreshing. I’m getting to experience the game from a perspective I’ve never had before.

The goal here is to win the Stanley Cup, nothing less. I can’t tell you how energized that makes me. I’ve done it once before and I’m going to lay everything I have out there in order to do it again.

Eric Staal, via the Players' Tribune

The letter is a farewell piece to Carolina, but it's also a really good reflection on the boost Staal feels he's gotten from switching teams. If anything, Carolina almost sounds like it was getting monotonous; with the Rangers, things are the same, but also totally different, and it's good to experience.

Also, he's thankful to get to play with his brothers.

Martin St. Louis' advice to Mats Zuccarello: 'Don't disrespect yourself'

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"I told him at one point, ‘People know how tough you are, you don’t need to keep proving it.’ It’s too tiring. You’ll get hurt and won’t have energy when you need the puck. It wears you down. Don’t waste all that energy. Pick your spots better and you’ll have juice in the tank.

""Believe in yourself. I know you always feel you have to prove yourself to other people, because you’re not a high draft pick. But, you have to stop putting everyone else on a pedestal because you were not supposed to be here. That doesn’t mean you don’t stop being respectful of others, just don’t disrespect yourself."

Martin St. Louis to Mats Zuccarello, via Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts (#28)

St. Louis finished his career with the Rangers, retiring after the end of last season. Since then, the Rangers have had only one Mats Zuccarello-sized player: Zucc himself. He's the lone smaller guy now.

St. Louis, 12 years' Zuccarello's senior, no doubt had advice to pass on to his younger counterpart, and there it is.

It's easy to forget Zucc had only played 125 NHL games by the time St. Louis came on board. In the grand scheme of things, that's really not that many. So was his advice, one littler guy to another, valuable? It's hard to imagine it wouldn't have been.

That's really great advice, too. To say "believe in yourself" is one thing - but everything he adds on just makes it that much more meaningful.

Mats Zuccarello not as talkative as before, jokes others may like that

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I miss a bit of the language. Speech is not quite 100 percent, but it is not sure it will be so much better. I'm okay with it. There are certainly many who are happy that I'll shut up once in a while.

Mats Zuccarello, via VG Sporten, a Norwegian newspaper. Translated by Google Translate, with me cleaning it up just a little.

Zucc is having his best-ever season on the ice - no small feat in general, but especially so considering how his last season ended.

He still has problems with words and letters on occasion, but he's taking all of this in stride - things could have been worse, and hey, it is what it is now. Nothing he can do about that but keep going on, and he's doing a great job of it.

Even if he talks less now. But he jokes that that might actually be a positive for other people - and when you can joke about it, you're probably in a good place.

VG also asked Zucc about the playoff race, and he knows not to take anything for granted there.

Mats Zuccarello, master of the three-point game

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Mats Zuccarello notched his sixth three-point game of the season when he scored one goal and assisted on two in the Rangers' 4-2 win at Buffalo. That matches the highest total of games with three points or more that any Rangers player has recorded in one season since 2010-11. Brad Richards had six three-point games in 2011-12 and Derek Stepan had half a dozen last season.

Elias Sports Bureau, Inc.

Mats Zuccarello also has eight two-point games on the season, giving him 14 multi-point games.

He's currently on pace for 62 points this season: a new career high. His old career high, 59 points, saw him be the Rangers' scoring leader in the 2013-14 season; he's currently the Rangers' scoring leader this season, as well.

What an amazing season Zucc is having, by any standards.

Henrik Lundqvist explains why he pushed the net off, isn't sorry

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"When I realized the puck is in our end, I was not really ready to play. That was the truth. I don’t know how I came up with the conclusion to move the net, but that’s what came up in my head, and I’m not gonna apologize for it because I was just not in a position where I could play the game. I needed a break."

Henrik Lundqvist, via Justin Tasch of the NY Daily News

On the one hand, the delay of game penalty was probably fair - he did delay the game, after all.

On the other hand, he got his point across, and he got the break he needed. And who's to say he wouldn't have been called for a delay of game if he hadn't done something else, like throwing his mask off?

In the end, Lundqvist got what he wanted, and his team didn't get scored on in the ensuing penalty. Sure sounds like a win for that instance.