WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Ho hum, just another win for the Rangers No. 1 goalie.
Igor Shesterkin was terrific again, and despite missing just over six minutes of game time in the first period when he was ludicrously pulled by a league concussion spotter, the 24-year-old Russian backstopped the Blueshirts to a 4-1 win over the Jets on Tuesday night.
It was Shesterkin’s first start on the road, having won five of his first six NHL starts, all at the Garden. After all the hype during his years in the KHL, and his terrific North American start in the AHL this season, the performance at this level is still remarkable.
“If you look at his track record and his pro career, there really hasn’t been much difference in the venue or the matter where we play,” coach David Quinn said before the game. “He just stops pucks, so that’s certainly what we’re anticipating.”
The Rangers (28-23-5) had recently felt like they were running in place, going 4-2-0 in their previous six coming in but unable to win three in a row since Thanksgiving. This was also a bit of an emotional return to Winnipeg for Jacob Trouba, and, to a lesser extent, Brendan Lemieux. And the Jets (29-24-5) were fighting for a playoff spot in the West — and their fans were often booing Trouba, who played here for six years before the Blueshirts’ pulled a trade-and-sign for the restricted free-agent defenseman this past summer.
That deal was all part of the rebuild, just as the current three-goalie scenario has emerged as a result of having a glut of good goaltenders. But the situation is evolving from a rotation to a net owned by Shesterkin, while Henrik Lundqvist — who made one stop in his 6:04 of first-period relief action — and Alex Georgiev (who was a healthy scratch) are vying for spot work here and there.
“[Shesterkin] is a guy that has gotten to this level of success at every stop along the way,” Quinn said. “He’s 24 years old, and he’s a rookie, but certainly not a pro rookie. And he’s certainly picked up where we left off in the American Hockey League up here.”
By the time the third started, the Rangers were up, 2-0, on two goals from Chris Kreider — who raises his trade value or his contract value with each passing day. Then Ryan Strome scored 53 seconds into the period, followed 25 seconds later by Mika Zibanejad, extending the lead to 4-0.
The Jets got a power-play goal from Nikolaj Ehlers at 4:45 to break Shesterkin and Lundqvist combining for a shutout, making it 4-1. Then the Jets got a six-on-four man-advantage in the closing minutes, but Shesterkin made the saves, finishing with 42 in total for another victory.
Shesterkin had been steady early in the first, and 8:12 in, defenseman Tony DeAngelo was called for interference when he shoved Andrew Copp into the goalie. Shesterkin went down in a heap and reached for his left leg, but after rising slowly, stayed in the game.
Yet after almost six minutes of game time passed by, trainer Jim Ramsay came out on the ice and told Shesterkin that he was being pulled from the game by the concussion spotter. The netminder was not happy, but in came Lundqvist, who made one stop and then watched as Kreider got his first of the game on a right-wing explosion with 34.1 seconds left in the period for a 1-0 lead.
If that would have stood up as the game-winner, the strange twist of fate would have gotten Lundqvist the win.
Still, there was a huge sigh of relief from the Rangers front office when Shesterkin came out to start the second period, and Kreider was able to make it 2-0 when he buried a rebound coughed up by Connor Hellebuyck at 7:30 of the second for a power-play goal and his 22nd of the season.
“I think our guys are excited about the opportunities in front of us,” Quinn had said. “Talking to the players, I feel like we continue to get better and continues to be growth.”
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