At the high level at which he is playing, Chris Kreider wasn’t going to let a quadriceps cramp from a hit by San Jose defenseman Brendan Dillon keep him down.
The 25-year-old winger — the hottest Ranger on Broadway — limped to the bench but climbed back over the boards before Dillon’s tripping penalty was up.
At the 8:30 mark of the second period Monday night at Madison Square Garden, you couldn’t tell that Kreider had been wincing on the ice moments earlier.
He gathered in a pass from Ryan McDonagh, ripped down the left side and absolutely wired a shot over the right shoulder of San Jose goalie Martin Jones and under the crossbar that gave the Rangers a two-goal lead.
“Just a dead leg for a bit,” Kreider said after the Rangers held on for a 7-4 win in a game in which they led 5-2 late in regulation.
It has been an incredible, anything-but-dead start to the season for Kreider, who has a goal and an assist in each of the team’s three games.
With the streak, he became the first Ranger to have multipoint games in the first three matches of the season since Bernie Nicholls in 1990.
Kreider, by the way, didn’t score his third goal last season until Nov. 14.
“He’s real tough to handle right now, whether it be on the initial rush or once he’s down low. He makes it real challenging,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Vigneault and the Blueshirts had to sweat out two straight goals by the Sharks after Jimmy Vesey put the Rangers ahead 5-2 with his first NHL goal at 12:37 of the third period.
Brent Burns scored his second goal of the game and Joe Pavelski trimmed the lead to 5-4 at 15:31 before empty-netters by Mats Zuccarello and Michael Grabner allowed the Rangers (2-1-0) and the fans at the Garden to exhale.
“When you get a couple quick goals like that [from Kevin Hayes and Vesey 21 seconds apart], sometimes you take your leg off the gas and give them little chances,” said backup goalie Antti Raanta, who made his first start this season.
“If you’re a goalie, you have to make the save on the third goal. And when it was 5-4, it was heavy panic inside the goalie’s head.”
The Rangers, using their speed to whip past the Sharks, took a 3-1 lead courtesy of Kreider, Marc Staal’s one-timer at 12:06 of the first period and Rick Nash’s rebound of McDonagh’s carom off the end boards at 4:15 of the second.
The two-goal lead was trimmed to one with 6:43 left in the third period. Sharks defenseman Paul Martin kept the puck in the Rangers’ zone at the blue line and got it down low to Pavelski, who notched his second assist of the evening when he found Brent Burns creeping between the circles.
The Rangers had only eight shots in the first period, just missing on some connections and opting for passes that the Sharks broke up.
The Rangers had 12 more shots by the halfway mark of the second and built the lead.
“Eighty percent of this game, we were quick, we attacked well, we defended well. That’s what we need to continue,” Vigneault said. “I’m hoping we’re going to get better.”