Well, this team found a way to win without their best. But who knows if the same can be said in a couple days.
In their final game before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, the Rangers managed to fight through a lot of sloppy play and take a 3-2 victory over the Sharks at the Garden on Saturday night. Rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin showed more glimpses of brilliance to go with a slight chink in the armor, still managing to win an extraordinary ninth game in his first 10 career NHL starts.
The Rangers (33-24-4) had recently got themselves back into the playoff picture by winning six of their past seven and nine of their past 12. Igor Shesterkin had taken the league by storm, starting this one the night after he backstopped a 5-2 victory in Carolina on Friday night.
Yet the overarching topic as the wayward Sharks (26-31-4) came in was still the trade deadline, with the Blueshirts having to make a couple key decision between now and then. But all of their major possible trade pieces dressed — including Chris Kreider, Jesper Fast, Tony DeAngelo, and Ryan Strome.
The club was dedicated to making this playoff push, no matter who was on the team. And they weathered a difficult opening 40 minutes — and arguably the first soft goal allowed in Shesterkin’s very young career — to go into the third period tied, 2-2.
Fast was then able to use his trademark tenacity to get a second-effort whack over goalie Aaron Dell at 6:54 of the third period to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
From there, the Blueshirts had to fend off the attacking Sharks — and did just that, making the feel in the locker room quite a bit better going into the most uncertain few days of the season.
With this being the team’s third game in four nights and their seventh game in 11 nights, coach David Quinn didn’t want his club to have a letdown after the emotional divisional win at Carolina. After that game, Quinn said, “I hope our guys are math majors and they understand where we’re at and how many games we have left, regardless of our opponent.”
And yet they were overtly sloppy in the first period, getting outshot 22-3. They were actually up, 1-0, when Artemi Panarin made a great play to set up Jesper Fast for a goal at 9:35, but that was equalized when Joe Thornton got just his third goal of the season on shot from the left circle the snuck under Shesterkin’s arm at 17:55.
Of course, Shesterkin had made a handful of great saves before that, including a glove snag on an Evander Kane breakaway about six minutes into the game and a big right-pad save on Thornton about 12 minutes in.
The Rangers got marginally better in the second, but Dell made some impressive saves of his own. He denied Jesper Fast on a shorthanded breakaway and later stopped Ryan Strome on a nice give-and-go with Kreider. The Sharks went up 2-1 on a power-play point shot from Brent Burns that was stopped by Shesterkin but rebounded into Thornton’s leg and in at 13:47, but Panarin answered when he swept one off the stick of Kane, sending it directly to Zibanejad in front for a slam-dunk and a 2-2 tie going into the third period.