Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello gets warm reception on pal Henrik Lundqvist’s big night

As Henrik Lundqvist’s jersey was raised to the Madison Square Garden rafters Friday night, the only noise that rivaled the cheers for No. 30 came when the arena camera panned over to Mats Zuccarello on the Wild bench.

The shouts of Zuccarello’s name, coupled with the chants of “Hen-rik” made it feel like 2014 all over again at the Garden. That was fitting. After all, it’s no coincidence that Lundqvist’s jersey retirement was selected for the same night that Zuccarello, one of his close friends, would be in town.

“It’s a huge day for him and his family,” Zuccarello told reporters earlier this week. “Knowing him for so long, it’s gonna be cool for me to experience that and be a part of that.”

Indeed, it was. Zuccarello participated in the ceremonial puck drop and heard his name echoed in the Garden yet again. More importantly, he’s got to celebrate his friend’s big night.

“It was a perfect day,” Zuccarello said after the Wild’s 3-2 win over the Rangers. “Being here for Hankie’s day and to see him yesterday and his family, with COVID and everything that’s going on, haven’t seen him or his family in a while. That was a great day yesterday.”

Mats Zuccarello
NHLI via Getty Images

The Swedish goaltender and the Norwegian forward got along famously, and they combined to drive one of the most successful periods in Rangers history. With Lundqvist backstopping the team for a franchise record 459 wins during his tenure, the Blueshirts were frequent playoff contenders for the first nine years of Zuccarello’s career, before he was dealt to the Stars at the 2019 trade deadline.

Lundqvist was a veteran for Zuccarello to look up to when he first joined the Rangers and the two became close friends.

“He was a big player already when I came in as a young adult,” Zuccarello said earlier in the week. “He needed someone to shoot on him and I was there. That was the first time I met him.”

Their relationship soon grew, and Friday was the latest in a long line of moments they have shared after nearly a decade together on the Rangers.

“Obviously you got a special relationship with the fans, being here for nine years,” Zuccarello said. “They were great to me when I was here. Still are. Obviously you appreciate that a lot.”

Since being tradedaway, Zuccarello has had a successful run with the Wild. He has 40 points on the season after a goal and an assist in the Rangers’ loss.

He added to the total at 13:47 of the second period, scoring on a Minnesota power play to tie the score at two. Later, he helped set up Frederick Gaudreau’s game-winning tally with a pass to Kevin Fiala towards the end of a shift that counted as a secondary assist.

The result, though, isn’t why the night will be remembered. The game was an afterthought.

This night was about Lundqvist for all involved.

“Obviously very emotional and a great ceremony,” Zuccarello said. “To get the win is a bonus here.”

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