NEW YORK -- John Tortorella delivered a frank message to Mats Zuccarello in his pregame news conference Wednesday.
Essentially, do something.
"He’s got to score," Tortorella said of the diminutive Norwegian forward. "[Shoot,] he’s had chances. He’s created chances. He hasn’t scored."
Brought over from Russia last month, in part because of his acumen in the shootout, Zuccarello delivered Wednesday night in helping the New York Rangers secure a second point in a 3-2 win over the fifth-place Toronto Maple Leafs.
Zuccarello was the lone scorer in the shootout for both teams, beating Leafs netminder James Reimer with a quick and deceptive five-hole shot that earned him the Broadway Hat as the team’s top performer.
"It feels great," said Zuccarello, who is now 6-for-12 in career shootouts, including four game-deciding goals. "Seeing [the puck] go in was a good feeling there; it’s about time. I’m just happy to help the team get two points."
Despite matching the seventh-place Islanders' 44 points, the Rangers remain in eighth place with one fewer regulation/overtime wins than their division rivals.
It was a critical two points that hung in the balance after a 2-1 lead evaporated in the third period when Toronto’s Phil Kessel tallied his second goal of the night and the two teams had to settle the three-point game in a shootout. And considering the time of year and what is at stake, there was a different sort of feel on the Rangers' bench as shooters took their turn at center ice.
"It’s humongous," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the second period with a deep wrist shot through traffic. "We needed that second point. It’s a totally different atmosphere in here for us if we don’t get that. You could kind of sense it that it was a little different shootout this time around."
It was a different game all-around for the Rangers, who dropped a 4-3 decision to the Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Monday night. Despite an underwhelming first period, the Rangers defended well in their own end and limited the Leafs' opportunities. Before Kessel’s third-period marker -- his fourth goal against the Rangers this week -- the Leafs had not managed a shot on goal in over 24 minutes.
"I think it’s reflective of the way everybody played. They had a concentration on it, but I don’t think we fore-checked overly well," coach John Tortorella said. "I thought we did a much better job in the neutral zone and, in our end zone, we really concentrated on the middle of the ice. It was sloppy at times, ugly at times, but I really like the way they responded and found a way to get through it."
Tortorella also praised Zuccarello for finally getting the job done and living up to his reputation as a proven shootout threat.
Carl Hagelin said he wasn’t surprised to see Zuccarello opt for that move; he saw him use it in practice in Tuesday.
"He’s probably one of the best shootout players in the league," said Hagelin, who finished with a goal and an assist.
Lundqvist continued his stellar play, with a superb stop on Toronto’s Nazem Kadri in a wild overtime period and a stingy performance in the shootout.
None of the three Toronto shooters scored; the Leafs are now winless in five shootout games this season.
"I feel really responsible if we lose," Lundqvist said of the shootout games. "It was important for me to step up and make those saves."
Now the Rangers have a tough test ahead as they travel to Long Island on Saturday to face the surging Islanders, one spot ahead of them in the standings.
"We respect what’s behind us," alternate captain Brad Richards said. "But, we also have things in sight in front of us, too."