JIM: Interesting that my Three Stars from Thursday do not resemble the official Three Stars as voted by the Buffalo media, who went with 1) Rick Nash, 2) Brad Richards, 3) Tyler Ennis. My No. 1 Star did not even make that list, nor did my No. 2! Perhaps I was watching another game, but Mats Zuccarello stood out to me as the games's First Star. He had a goal and an assist in the third period, a team-high four shots on goal, and also rang a sneaky right-wing shot off the post late in the second period. When many of his teammates were going through sluggish shifts earlier in the contest, you could see Zuccarello skating hard, creating offensively and backchecking diligently in his own end. I really liked his game on Thursday.
My Second Star was Henrik Lundqvist, who somehow failed to be mentioned officially as one of the three stars. While he was not tested often in the first half of the game, Lundqvist was very sharp in the second half. He was at his best in the third period, and his sensational right-pad save on Cody Hodgson was part of the game-turning sequence of events as the Rangers followed with a key power play goal after Hodgson's tripping penalty which followed Lundqvist's save. Instead of a tense 1-1 game and a blown third-period lead, the Rangers were instead up 2-0. Lundqvist finished with 27 saves and just missed out on his third shutout of the season.
My No. 3 Star did make the official list as I thought Rick Nash was solid all night long, and that goal of his in the first period would have been reason enough to make him one of the three stars. Any questions about if Nash is healthy and back on his game were more than answered on his power move to the net and incredible fake and finish past Ryan Miller. It was a hugely important goal, too, as the Rangers escaped a dreary first period with a 1-0 lead on the road.
MATT: My first star of the night goes to Henrik Lundqvist, who had a slow first 40 minutes but certainly made up for it with one of his best performances in a single period this year in the third. After facing 14 shots through the opening two periods, The King saw 14 shots come his way in the final 20 minutes and turned aside all but one, including two breakaways and a few odd-man rushes. The biggest save came on Hodgson, who Lundqvist stopped on a breakaway and immediately led to a Rangers power play, which they scored the game-winning goal on. Lundqvist was phenomenal all night, and while Buffalo may not be a top team in the NHL, it was nice to see him bounce back after last Friday's loss in Boston and the subsequent back-to-back games not starting earlier in the week.
My second star goes to Mats Zuccarello, who I felt was the team's best forward all night. The thing I noticed most about Zuccarello's game was his willingness to shoot last night, something I've been hoping to see for weeks. While he's known for his passing ability — and rightfully so, as shown on Brad Richards' goal in the third — his shot is very underrated. Last night, though, he fired four pucks on net, scored once and hit the post on another. He's a guy Alain Vigneault certainly wants to see produce on a consistent level, and over the last two weeks or so, he's been doing just that.
Like you, I have to go with Rick Nash for that gorgeous goal in the first period that gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead. It certainly seems Nash is back to being Rick Nash, as he now has four goals in his last five games, and is looking like the player he was last season. He's so strong one on one and no matter how many times he uses that deke move, goalies just have trouble stopping it.