Any joy the New York Rangers felt after rallying from two goals down to earn a point in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Sunday was tempered by the fact that long-time teammate Mats Zuccarello was not a part of it.
The forward was traded to the Dallas Stars on Saturday for a conditional second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Zuccarello can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist became too choked up to speak when asked about Zuccarello after the game.
“It’s tough. A good friend,” Lundqvist said before pausing. “I can’t do it.”
Forward Mika Zibanejad added: “Personally, he was a guy who took me in from day one, really helped me, became one of my really close friends over the years. Helped me on the ice, off the ice with everything.”
Zuccarello has 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 46 games this season and has led the Rangers in scoring each of the past three seasons.
He had a goal and an assist in his Stars debut on Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks before leaving the game late in the second period with an upper-body injury. The Stars said Zuccarello is expected to miss at least four weeks.
Signed as a free agent May 26, 2010, Zuccarello has 352 points (113 goals, 239 assists) in 509 regular-season games and 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 60 Stanley Cup Playoff games, all with New York.
“We knew this day would come and you’re talking about a special player and, as I have found out over my time here, a special guy too,” Rangers coach David Quinn said.
In their first game since the trade, the Rangers again scratched defenseman Adam McQuaid and forward Kevin Hayes with the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. ET. Each player can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and could be gone when the Rangers gather for practice on Tuesday.
“You want those guys in the locker room. You want to win with those guys,” Zibanejad said. “It’s a side of the business that you don’t want to be a part of. You’d rather acquire guys at this time of the year. That’s what we’re hoping we can do next year.”