Mats Zuccarello leaves Game 5 of the Rangers’ first-round series against the Penguins after taking a puck to the left side of his helmet.
Rangers top-line right wing Mats Zuccarello was the only Ranger unavailable due to injury for Game 1 of this second-round series against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night at the Garden.
The team maintained that the Norwegian forward, who has a likely concussion, is “sidelined indefinitely” with an “upper-body injury” after being hit in the left side of his helmet by a Ryan McDonagh shot last Friday night at the Garden.
It is unknown whether Zuccarello will be available at any point in the series. Coach Alain Vigneault said on Wednesday that “Zucc’s not gonna be available” but then backed off ruling him out for the full round. Zuccarello left Game 5 of the Rangers-Penguins series with 3:58 remaining in the first period after being struck by the puck and did not return.
“When you have a lot of depth in your team it’s always gonna help, especially this time of year, but at the same time you can’t really replace a guy like Zuccarello,” said center Derick Brassard, Zuccarello’s typical center and good friend. “The way he’s been playing the game for us, the passion that he brings, in the playoffs this time of year, it’s hard to replace. But James Sheppard is gonna jump into the lineup. He’s been playing some really good hockey since we got him in the trade.”
Sheppard was acquired at the deadline from the San Jose Sharks. Thursday night marked his first appearance this postseason. Defenseman Matt Hunwick was scratched for the first time these playoffs due to the return of Kevin Klein from injury, and eighth defenseman Chris Summers remained a scratch as he’s been all postseason.
Tom Wilson, seen here laying the wood to the Islanders’ Ryan Strome, is a friend of Rangers forward J.T. Miller but their friendship is taking a backseat in these playoffs.
WHALE BE SEEING YOU
With Zuccarello unavailable, the Rangers still had not called up another forward from AHL Hartford.
“Since we’re at home and it’s an hour away and they’re playing Game 5 (of a playoff series on Friday), we just felt that if we needed somebody quickly we could get it done today,” Vigneault said. “But at this time we didn’t see the use of bringing somebody up right now just to sit in the stands.”
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HEY, MR. WILSON!
Capitals right wing Tom Wilson, 21, and Rangers right wing J.T. Miller, 22, once played on the same line as members of the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. Though they remain pals, Wilson said they’ll have to put their friendship aside in this series.
“That’s always something really cool when you’re warming up and you can look over on the other side and see a guy you played with years ago, before it was really a reality that you were playing in the NHL. He’s a good buddy of mine,” Wilson said. “There won’t be any friends out there on the ice, but hopefully we can remain friends after the series is done. … I know him pretty well and maybe we’ll try to get under each other’s skin, you never know. Like I said, good friend, it’s awesome to see him have such a good year. But I’m done praising him now. It’s going to be a good hard series. Hopefully we can shut him down.”
DOM, DUH-DOM DOM
During the Rangers’ first-round series against Pittsburgh, Deadspin shared a reader’s photos from the Steel City that appeared to contain notes from the NHL officials’ meeting before Game 4 against the Penguins. One sheet of paper contained an obvious point of emphasis: “Faceoffs: NYR-Moore, Pitt-Lapierre.”
Rangers veteran center Dominic Moore is a big-time playoff performer, as he proved once again by beating both Penguins defenseman Paul Martin and captain Sidney Crosby in the corner to set up Carl Hagelin’s winning goal in Game 5. But Moore also gets under opponents’ skin frequently, and so he’s on the officials’ watch list.
“I’m not deliberately agitating anyone,” said a smirking Moore, who doesn’t consider himself and Lapierre comparable in how far they’ll go. “But if I’m playing my game the way I want to, they may get agitated.”
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Vigneault on Hagelin’s playoff effectiveness: “I just find that Carl — when he’s using his speed and going to the tough areas and holding onto the puck — he’s a very hard player to play against. He’s found a way in playoff hockey to make the plays that can make a difference and hopefully he’ll be able to do that for us.”
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