If this was Jesper Fast’s final game as a Ranger, he certainly went out with a bang.
Fast — a candidate to get dealt before Monday’s NHL trade deadline — scored two goals, including the game-winner in the third period, as the Rangers beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-2, at the Garden on Saturday night.
The Rangers (33-24-4) have won three in a row and seven of their last eight. They are four points behind the Islanders and Hurricanes (who hold the two wild-card spots) along with the Blue Jackets, who have 74 points each. The surge could make it less likely that general manager Jeff Gorton will trade anyone away. We’ll know soon enough.
Asked how he’ll approach the time before the deadline, coach David Quinn said: “Day off tomorrow, practice on Monday.”
Most of the speculation has centered on Chris Kreider, but Fast has value as an unrestricted free-agent-to-be. He certainly showed his value to the Rangers in a hard-fought contest that wasn’t secured until goalie Igor Shesterkin made the last of his 44 saves with 10 seconds left.
Shesterkin made 40-plus saves for the fourth time in his 10th career start and extended his winning streak to seven games. The Russian rookie is 9-1 this season.
With the score tied at 2, a relentless Fast kept whacking at the puck in front of the net and finally got it past Aaron Dell with 13:06 left in the third period.
“Any time he gets rewarded in that fashion, you’re happy for him,” Quinn said, “because he does a lot of the grunt work on that line. To get statistically rewarded is certainly a good thing for him and a great thing for us.”
The Rangers won a game in which they did not come out strong at all. They were outshot 22-3 in the first period and were lucky to be tied at 1. Shesterkin made six fewer saves in the period than he did in the entire 5-2 win at Carolina on Friday night.
“I thought the second half of the second period, we started to kind of find our way,” Quinn said. “I think we had 10 shots in five minutes and got the [third] goal and just managed to win the hockey game. You‘re not going to play 82 great games at this time of year. You’ve got to find a way to win, and I give our guys a lot of credit.’’
The Rangers had the first power play, but the Sharks nearly scored the first goal when Evander Kane flew in on Shesterkin for a shorthanded breakaway attempt. He stopped the shot with a sprawling glove save.
At that point, the Sharks had a 10-0 edge in shots. The Rangers got their first shot 7:37 into the game and the first goal for either team less than two minutes later.
Ryan Strome fed the puck to Artemi Panarin, who was alone in front of the left post. Panarin waited, waited and then threaded a pass to a streaking Fast, who tapped it in at 9:35. It was Fast’s 10th goal and extended points streaks for Panarin (nine) and Strome (eight).
The Sharks tied it when 40-year-old Joe Thornton surprised Shesterkin with a slap shot from the left circle that went through the goalie’s legs with 2:05 left in the period. It was the 416th goal of his career.
Thornton scored No. 417 on the power play off a deflection to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead at 13:47 of the second. They were outshooting the Rangers 32-9, but the home team finally woke up and started to control play.
Mika Zibanejad tied it at 2 at 17:27 when he knocked in a pass from Panarin, who took the puck off Kane’s stick behind the Sharks’ net. It was his 28th goal.
“Certainly, we weren’t happy with the first period and nobody was feeling good about what was going on,’’ Quinn said. “We were able to kind of grind our way through it. It was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination.”