Throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we’ll be spotlighting unsung heroes around the postseason on a weekly basis.
Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker, 21, entered his name into franchise lore with an overtime, game-winning goal in Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.
“Just trying to get the puck on net and it just happened to go in for me,” Zucker told the Star Tribune, of his goal 2:15 into overtime to cut the Wild’s series deficit to 2-1.
It was a sharp-angle shot that found its way past goalie Corey Crawford. It surprised the Blackhawks goalie, and surprised the rest of the hockey world, too: Zucker’s wasn’t a name many expected would be attached to a goal of that magnitude.
But Minnesota Wild fans know what he’s meant to the team this season.
Zucker, a rookie, has 26 NHL games to his credit, with four goals and three assists for his career. He played 20 of those games this season, playing a vital role as an energy player with four goals in 14 games before Corey Perry’s head-shot on March 12 forced him to miss two games. That affected his place in the lineup; according to Minnesota Hockey Magazine, Pierre-Marc Bouchard took Zucker’s place in the lineup and soon the young player was seeing fourth-line minutes.
The Wild actually demoted Zucker to the American Hockey League in April so he could play more minutes. They brought him back for their season finale against the Colorado Avalanche, a must-win for the Wild’s playoff chances, and then kept him in the lineup through the first three games of this series.
Zucker now has a goal and an assist in three games, with nine shots on goal. As Coach Mike Yeo told the Star Tribune:
“I thought early in the year, his play without the puck, and even with the puck sometimes, we call it ‘playing like a little kid,’ and I think he did that,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “He plays a much different game for me right now. Me having the confidence to put him on the ice against anyone on their team in any situation says a lot about his game.”
It also says a lot about how Zucker, who was playing for the University of Denver in 2012, has earned that opportunity.