BOSTON — Mats Zuccarello said he was probably the worst player on the team on Saturday, but anyone looking at the scoresheet could counter that he was the best player for the handful of seconds when it counted the most.
Playing their second game in less than 24 hours, overtime was likely the last thing the fatigued Rangers wanted, but Zuccarello’s goal ended it 1:56 into the extra frame as the Rangers beat the Bruins, 3-2. It ended a stretch of six games in nine days, including this home-and-away back-to-back set (the Rangers edged the Kings on Friday night at MSG, then played a 5 p.m. start in Boston on Saturday).
“I think I played really bad today so it was nice to see that go in,” Zuccarello said. “You just have to stay positive. Some days are like that when you get a chance to help the team out, you’ve got to be there. Obviously, me shooting like that, it’s not going to go in a lot, so that was a good way to get a win.”
The Bruins were called for a too-many-men on the ice penalty after a sloppy line change with 3:55 left in overtime, giving the Rangers the 4-on-3 man advantage, and Zuccarello was patient in a way that belied his previous struggles. He juggled with the puck in the left circle for a beat, allowing Chris Kreider to screen Tuukka Rask, and delivered a precision snap shot to the back of the net for the victory.
Henrik Lundqvist, who played in both games of the back-to-back, made 33 saves. He outright saved the game with a little less than three minutes left, when his kick save on a point-blank shot by Torey Krug kept the game tied at 2.
“The more I play, the more relaxed I get,” he said. “It just helps me to be in the right mindset. Physically it’s more challenging, but mentally, it’s easier I find, and the biggest part of the game is mental.”
The Bruins were able to overcome a two-goal deficit in the final two periods, after something of a dispiriting start that saw their first goal — netted 4:29 into the game — overturned for an offsides call.
The Rangers committed seven penalties — many mistakes that appeared a result of fatigue — but the penalty kill let up only one goal. Unfortunately for them, it was the equalizer. The Bruins tied it at 2 at 5:38 of the third, when Brad Marchand’s one-timer floated over Lundqvist’s shoulder on the glove side.
And though the Bruins did appear to be the superior team down the stretch, the Rangers absolutely had physics on their side. At 14:42 of the first, Michael Grabner went one-on-one against Kevan Miller and flicked a wrister over the crossbar, but it appeared the puck had other ideas. It bounced off the back wall, and ricocheted off Rask’s back, who thought the threat was over, and skittered in. It was Grabner’s 16th goal and maybe his most surprising — even he didn’t realize he scored right away and it took him a beat to pump his arms. It was his eighth point in the last 10 games and his seventh goal.
The Rangers went up 2-0 in the opening minutes of the second period when Brady Skjei took a high stick to the face and they immediately cashed in. Ryan McDonagh found J.T. Miller on a breakaway about 20 seconds into the man advantage, and Miller scored.
The Bruins, though, were finally able to get something going with 2:55 left in the second period, when Zdeno Chara’s slapshot got a little help from Danton Heinen, who tipped it off the crossbar and in to cut the Rangers lead to 2-1. They tied it in a third period where they attempted 16 shots. All that did, though, was set Zuccarello up for some redemption.
“It’s such a quick release,” Lundqvist said. “Every team has one or two players that can slap the puck like that and as a goalie, you just have to be on your toes at all times. It’s hard. He fakes it, he looks you off and he just comes at you fast.”
Fast enough to turn a very bad day into a very good win.