The marquee at the Garden should read, “The Igor Shesterkin Show with co-stars Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider and guest starring the special teams.”
Shesterkin looked into the eye of the Hurricanes and stopped 43 of 44 shots to lead the Rangers to a 3-1 win over Carolina in game three at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon.
“Igor was outstanding for us and that was the key,” Head Coach Gerard Gallant said after the game.
Zibanejad and Kreider scored goals while the power play and penalty killing unit made major contributions.
The Rangers now trail the series, two games to one with game four slated for Tuesday night at MSG.
With the Rangers not getting much offensively in the first two games, head coach Gerard Gallant tweaked the lines and moved Filip Chytil up to play with Zibanejad and Kreider. The move paid dividends as that line brought energy and were able to generate some time in the ‘Canes offensive zone.
Gallant went back to his traditional lines in the third period, but he got what he wanted out of that combination. “Fil did a good job out there with that line. He controlled the puck down low and he made some good plays, had some good chances,” said Gallant.
Shesterkin had to be sharp from the start because the Rangers were shorthanded just 1:07 into the game. Ryan Lindgren went off for cross checking and Carolina had the early momentum.
The Rangers killed off the penalty and got their first power play when former Ranger Brady Skjei was sent off for holding at 10:40 of the first period.
Getting an early lead was important so the Rangers really needed to capitalize with the man advantage.
Artemi Panarin had the puck at the top of the right face off circle and made it look like he was going to shoot, but he passed cross ice to Zibanejad who fired it past Hurricanes goalie Antii Raanta on the short side for his fourth goal of the playoffs and a 1-0 lead.
A few minutes after the goal, Shesterkin made a sprawling save to deny Carolina’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi and the Rangers had a one goal lead after one.
In the second period, the Rangers had a 4 on 1 but didn’t get a shot on goal as Panarin lost the puck in the offensive zone to give Carolina a rush the other way. Max Domi broke in on Shesterkin who made the save, but the puck was loose in the crease before Kevin Rooney was able to knock it away from the net.
The Rangers were generating a lot more time in Carolina’s offensive zone and it paid off when Chris Kreider scored his sixth goal of the playoffs to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.
Kreider had the puck behind the Hurricanes net and skated out, uncontested to the left faceoff circle. Raanta was deep in his net so Kreider fired it past his left shoulder, top shelf for the two goal lead. “We did a good job down low,” Kreider said. “Came around the net, saw the defenseman didn’t have a stick, just tried to walk out.”
The goal was Kreider’s 30th career playoff goal which moved him ahead of Mark Messier for second place on the Rangers’ all time list.
A little over two minutes later, the Hurricanes got on the board with a shot that Shesterkin stops 99.9 out of a 100 times.
Nino Niderreiter broke in past Zibanejad on right wing and beat Shesterkin with a little back hand shot to cut the Rangers’ lead to 2-1. “You miss a goal, you get a little disappointed for a second. You say a few mean words and you forget about it,” Shesterkin said. To his credit, the 26 year old goaltender was able to forget about it and not give up another one.
Carolina had the momentum and the Rangers were able to keep them from tying the game. Alexis LaFreniere took a high sticking penalty at 19:33 of the second period so the Canes would have the man advantage for the first 1:27 of the third period.
The Rangers killed off the penalty and kept Carolina off the board. Nine minutes into the third period, Carolina’s Steven Lorentz got in behind the defense but couldn’t control the puck and shot wide.
Tyler Motte was called for a slashing penalty at 13:57. The PK unit that was outstanding all game long, was very efficient in killing it off and did not allow a shot on goal during that two minute power play. “We defended it pretty good, guys, you know they did the right thing with the puck,” Gallant said. “Defended it a little bit too much, again they did a good job. They kept them on the outside.”
With less than three minutes left, Carolina pulled Raanta for the extra skater and Kreider, who was all by himself in the Hurricanes’ offensive zone, literally missed a golden opportunity to seal the deal as he missed the open net.
Carolina was pressing for the tying goal but Motte stole a pass from Teuvo Teravainen and back handed the puck down the ice and into the open net.
The Rangers were 1 for 2 on the power play while Carolina was 0 for 3 and is now 0 for 7 for the series.
The Rangers have allowed 40 or more shots for the fifth time this post season, but Shesterkin didn’t mind the extra work. “It’s a good thing that they made so many shots,” Shesterkin said through an interpreter after the game. “They were really just trying to shoot from everywhere, they were trying to feel out the game, but none of those shots were really that dangerous.”
Things got a little nasty at the end of the game. Domi slashed Lindgren who went after him and Gallant and the Ranger bench was incensed.
“I don’t like it at the end of the game,” Gallant said. “The game’s over, we still got four games to go with those guys. They’re not sending any message, we got the guys that can handle all their guys if we want to. We didn’t do it like that but Domi took a cheap shot at our defenseman.” [Lindgren]
The Rangers were able to feed off the energy of the raucous crowd at the Garden. “To be able to play playoff hockey in front of these fans again, it’s an experience that’s hard to put into words,” said Kreider.
It’s been a tightly contested series between two good defensive teams. “All three games have been really, really close games, coulda gone either way,” Kreider said. “That’s playoff hockey, just gotta continue to work for your bounces.”
Rangers are hoping for more of those good bounces in game four Tuesday night.