JIM: Half the fans were booing, and the other half were "Zuuuuuuc"ing Sunday afternoon as Mats Zuccarello — perhaps the one player with the least connection to Yankee Stadium — made the Old Ballyard in the South Bronx his personal playground in the snow. Zuccarello scored twice--the tying goal and the eventual game-winning goal--driving hard to the net and being in the perfect position to convert odd-man rush feeds from, first, John Moore, then Derick Brassard, and tied for second on the team with four shots on goal. Coming from Norway where baseball is not exactly a big deal, Zuccarello still recognized and seized the importance of the big-time atmosphere--which he also showed flashes of in last spring's playoffs--a quality you can't really teach, more so a quality that is deep within a player. Zuccarello seems to have that gene inside of him, and certainly did on Sunday. He was engaged and physical right from the start when he and New Jersey's Stephen Gionta crossed sticks like swords and jawed at each other in the opening minutes of the game. The smallest guy on the ice came up the biggest on this large stage of Yankee Stadium. First Star all the way.
How about Anton Stralman? You almost forget about him because he is so quietly effective and does not play a flashy game at either end of the ice. Then with the spotlight at its brightest on Sunday Stralman steps forward with an absolutely terrific all-around game--two assists, three hits, and a +4 plus/minus rating. His hit on Andy Greene which leveled the Devils defenseman and started a 3-on-1 the other way that culminated in a Rick Nash goal late in the second period is going down as one of my favorite plays of the year. Anton Stralman, No. 2 Star on Sunday.
For my Third Rangers Star I am going with Stralman's defense partner Marc Staal. Like Stralman, Staal was terrific at both ends of the ice, and that duo really picked up for the top pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who had a rough first period. Staal, like Stralman, was a +4 and had two points in the game. His goal 52 seconds after Travis Zajac had given New Jersey a 3-1 lead late in the first period was the most important one scored by the Rangers all afternoon because it settled them down, lowered the deficit to one, stopped the Devils wave of momentum, and clearly set the stage for their comeback and dominant second period.
MATT: Impossible not to go with Zuccarello here following his two-goal performance in The Bronx. As you said, he probably has the fewest knowledge of what Yankee Stadium signifies coming from Norway, but I think he learned pretty quick and etched his name into Stadium history. Zuccarello turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead within 10 minutes in the second period starting with some good luck when a John Moore pass went off his skate and into the net. The second goal, though, was simply gorgeous, from the rush, to the pass from Derick Brassard to Zuccarello waiting out Martin Brodeur for the goal. As you stated, Jim, Zuccarello was also physical, which has become a big part of his game over the last two months or so. All around, a huge day for No. 36.
I'll go Marc Staal as my second star, as I felt his goal late in the first period was actually the most important tally of the afternoon, and really swayed things in the Rangers' favor. It's so different for a team to go into the second period down one goal instead of two, which is exactly what Staal's goal did. Was it pretty? No, but they all look the same on the scoresheet, and that goal was simply huge. Staal later added an assist on Rick Nash's second period goal that really put the game out of reach for the Devils. Despite allowing three goals, Staal finished the afternoon with a plus-4 with four shots on goal.
My third star goes to Anton Stralman, who I think many would agree played the best game of his season Sunday afternoon. While he didn't find the back of the net, Stralman did finish with assists on the goals scored by Dominic Moore and Carl Hagelin for his first multi-point game of the season. As you said, Jim, Stralman played a big role in Nash's goal after he level Greene at the Rangers blueline that started the rush. Good for Stralman, who is a player who steps up in the big moment.