Small skull fracture kept Rangers' Mats Zuccarello out vs. Lightning

ByDanny Knobler ESPN logo
Monday, June 1, 2015

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The words come hard for Mats Zuccarello, even now.

TheNew York Rangers forward said Monday that the head injury he suffered in the first round of the playoffs was so severe that he lost the ability to speak for four days. Zuccarello said he also temporarily lost feeling in his arm after he was hit in the head by teammateRyan McDonagh's shot during Game 5 of the Rangers'series against thePittsburgh Penguins.

Zuccarello said he is still seeing a speech therapist.

The Rangers, who had kept mostly quiet about Zuccarello's condition, said Monday that while he never suffered a concussion, he had a hairline fracture of his skull and a brain contusion.

Zuccarello said doctors told him that he had some blood in his brain, but said they also assured him that he will recover fully and be able to play next season.

"The doctors say I'm going to be fine," Zuccarello said as he and his teammates went through end-of-season formalities at the team's training facility. "So I'm going to stay positive, take the summer to rest and get ready for next season."

Zuccarello was skating by the end of the Eastern Conference finals against theTampa Bay Lightning, but hesaid Monday that it's doubtful he would have been able to play if the Rangers had advanced to play for the Stanley Cup.

His teammates spoke Monday about their concern for their teammate during their playoff run. McDonagh said he visited Zuccarello in the hospital the night of the injury, and said it was tough to see the 27-year-old Norwegian hooked up to machines, unable to communicate.

"It was real upsetting, but at the same time very inspirational and motivating to see him bounce back like he did," Chris Kreider said. "Obviously, it's a huge positive that he's going to make a full recovery."

As the playoffs went on, Zuccarello would send his teammates text messages, and later they would see him in the locker room and around the practice facility.

Zuccarello had 15 goals and 34 assists during the regular season, and two assists against the Penguins in the first round before he was hurt. He played mostly on the top line with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash.

While Brassard ended up with nine goals in 19 playoff games, the Rangers struggled to get much offensive consistency through series against the Washington Capitals and Lightning. They were shut out in both Games 5 and 7 against the Lightning.

"Zuc is a big part of this team, and I think we really missed him," Brassard said.

The Rangers revealed Monday that several other players were dealing with significant injuries, as McDonagh suffered a broken right foot and defenseman Dan Girardi suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain in Game 4 against the Lightning, and defenseman Marc Staal played with a hairline fracture throughout the playoffs.

McDonagh, who continued to play but was limited by the injury, was still wearing a walking boot Monday and was using crutches to help get around. Doctors have told him he'll need to wear the boot for the next four weeks.