Mats Zuccarello (Al Bello/Getty Images)
Mats Zuccarello’s solid campaign continued Sunday night when he fired a no-look backhand pass that gave Derek Stepan a wide-open net. Zuccarello’s pass lead to Stepan’s 100th career goal, which stood as the game-winning tally.
Years from now, when New York Rangers center Derek Stepan thinks about his 100th career goal, he’ll remember that it held up as a game-winning marker. And there’s little doubt he’ll recall the pass that set it up because it was a magnificent effort by Mats Zuccarello that put Stepan’s 100th goal on a platter.
Midway through the third period Sunday, the Rangers were working the puck around the Flyers’ zone while holding a slim 1-0 lead. Eventually the puck was worked back to Dan Girardi, who threw a puck on net hoping for a favorable bounce. He didn’t get the bounce he was looking for, but he set up the chance for Zuccarello to make something out of nothing.
Zuccarello scooped up the rebound and corralled the puck while drifting away from the net, and with the puck finally settled, he threw an unbelievable no-look pass that went right to Stepan, who fired the puck into a wide-open net:
Stepan’s point to Zuccarello says it all. Stepan knew who made that goal happen. Later in the frame, Stepan would notch his 101st career goal, but it was No. 100 that would be the big one. In the dying seconds of the third, Philladelphia’s Brayden Schenn scored to make it 3-1, meaning Stepan’s first goal of the evening — the one set up by Zuccarello — stood as the game-winner.
Zuccarello, 28, has been a scoring force for the Rangers this season. His 19 goals lead the Rangers and are tied for the most in his career with 26 games to go. With 43 points, Zuccarello leads the Rangers in scoring. And if he can score 17 more points this season, his 60 points would set a career-high, besting his 2013-14 point total of 59.
More than scoring, though, Zuccarello has found an increased responsibility. Prior to this season, his highest average ice time was 17:15 per game. That’s gone up by more than a minute this season, as Zuccarello is averaging 18:31 per contest this campaign.