PITTSBURGH — Igor Shesterkin will be the New York Rangers starting goalie when they try to avoid elimination in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
“He’s the best goalie in the League,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “I’m going to go with him.”
That it was even in doubt tells you everything you need to know about how the past two games at PPG Paints Arena went for the Rangers and where they are in this series.
Shesterkin, the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie after going 36-13-4 with a 2.07 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, was pulled from each game and the Rangers lost both.
[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Penguins series coverage]
He played one period in Game 3 on Saturday, allowed four goals on 15 shots and watched from the bench while Alexander Georgiev played the last 40 minutes in a 7-4 loss.
Shesterkin made it through the second period in Game 4 on Monday, but he allowed six goals on 30 shots and was relegated to opening and closing the bench door during the third period of a 7-2 loss. He now has a 4.26 GAA and .905 save percentage in this best-of-7 series.
The Rangers trail 3-1.
“He’s probably real frustrated,” Gallant said of Shesterkin. “He’ll be back in there and he’ll be ready to win the next game Wednesday night. I have all the confidence in the world in him. It was a tough night for our team and I’m disappointed more in our team than him.”
It got so bad for the Rangers that the fans here were chanting “We want Igor” as he was sitting on the bench early in the third period. Yes, the home fans of the Penguins were urging the Rangers to put the NHL’s best goalie in the regular season back in the game.
“We weren’t playing very good in front of [Shesterkin],” New York forward Andrew Copp said. “It definitely wasn’t on him at all. It’s going to be up to every guy in the room to pull together and do what we can to win Game 5.”
Gallant said, “(We) played soft. We were soft all over the ice.”
That remarkably includes against Penguins center Sydney Crosby, who continued to dominate this series with a goal and two assists. He is tied for second in NHL postseason scoring with Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand with nine points (two goals, seven assists) in four games.
If you’re going to be hard on anybody on the Penguins, it should be No. 87.
Video: Penguins’ 5-goal 2nd period powers Gm4 win
Jake Guentzel, the left wing on Crosby’s line, scored his fifth goal of the series. Including Bryan RustPittsburgh’s top line has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in the series, including 17 at even strength (six goals, 11 assists).
New York’s top six forwards (Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Frank Vatrano, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strom and Copp) have three more points (10 goals, 13 assists), including one fewer at even strength (seven goals, nine assists).
How do they change the result in Game 5?
“I mean, start by playing in their end,” Copp said. “When we do break pucks out clean, we’re maybe a little too fancy in the neutral zone turning it over or we’re not coming back for our ‘D’ enough. Get in the O-zone and when we can we have to get more bodies to the net and get some shots through. I think we know the recipe here, but it’s a matter of going out and executing.”
Maybe if they do, they’ll challenge Louis DomingueThe Penguins’ starting goalie after injuries to Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmithenough to dent him.
He faced 24 shots in Game 4 and saved 22.
“Not committed to playing the right way,” Gallant said. “We played the right way in New York [in Games 1 and 2], there’s no reason we can’t play the right way tonight. A lot of soft, bad plays by a lot of people. It was a team effort tonight.”
It’s certainly alarming that the Rangers appear to have lost their way defensively after spending the better part of the last six weeks of the regular season limiting Grade A scoring chances and shots on goal against.
The Penguins had the backdoor play open all night with a forward skating past a Rangers defenseman to the far post. That’s how Guentzel scored at 3:38 of the second period to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead 24 seconds after Mike Matheson made it 2-1 on a deflection.
The slot in front of Shesterkin was open for business and the Penguins set up there.
Danton Heinen scored on a netfront deflection of Kris Letang‘s shot at 18:53 of the second to make it 5-2. Jeff Carter did the same thing 35 seconds later on Jason Zucker‘s shot to give Pittsburgh a 6-2 lead.
“There wasn’t much commitment to playing defense tonight,” Gallant said.
And the turnovers got the best of the Rangers too.
Mark Friedman scored at 11:22 of the second to make it 4-1, seven seconds after Jacob Trouba was guilty of a giveaway. Evgeni Malkin scored four seconds after he took the puck away from K’Andre Miller to make it 7-2 at 12:22 of the third period.
“Got to be quick to forget it, learn from it, move on,” Trouba said. “It takes four games to win a series. We’re not out of this thing. We’re going to go home and do what we can to win Game 5.”
They’ll do it with Shesterkin in net. That it was even a question tells the story of the Rangers right now.