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Igor Shesterkin close to returning to Rangers' net

Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin sprays water on his

Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin sprays water on his face during a second period timeout in an NHL game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Jan. 22. Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

Igor Shesterkin is "very, very close’’ to returning to action for the Rangers, according to acting coach Kris Knoblauch. That could mean the goaltender might be back in net on Thursday, when the Rangers visit Philadelphia to take on the Flyers in the opener of a two-game set that concludes Saturday afternoon.

Shesterkin, 25, has been out since suffering a groin injury March 4 in New Jersey, near the end of a 6-1 victory over the Devils. In the 10 games he missed, the Rangers went 5-4-1, with Alexandar Georgiev and Keith Kinkaid each starting five games.

It was enough to keep the Rangers in the hunt for a playoff spot — they are four points behind fourth-place Boston in the East Division with 25 games to go — but now it appears the time has come for the Rangers to deal with the always-uncomfortable three-goalie situation they now have.

Coach David Quinn (who is still making decisions while away from the team because of COVID-19 protocol) handled a three-goalie situation last year when Shesterkin was called up from the minor leagues.

Shesterkin (6-7-1, with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage) is the preferred No. 1 option, but in 15 months with the Rangers, he’s had some trouble staying on the ice. An ankle injury cost him two games last season; broken ribs suffered in a car accident cost him six more, and a groin injury kept him out of the first two games of the Rangers’ three-game play-in series loss to Carolina.

Georgiev, 25, signed a two-year, $4.85 million contract in the offseason to be the 1A goalie behind Shesterkin, and Kinkaid, the Long Islander, signed in October to be the third option.

But Kinkaid has been better than Georgiev in the time Shesterkin has been out. Kinkaid twice relieved Georgiev after poor starts, and overall went 3-1-1, with a 2.22 GAA, .908 save percentage, and one shutout. Georgiev went 2-3 in his five starts with a 3.24 GAA, .868 save percentage and one shutout. Overall, he is 5-5-2, 2.92, .897 on the season.

Kinkaid, a native of Farmingville, had been on the taxi squad until Shesterkin’s injury, and since Georgiev would need to clear waivers before he could be assigned to the taxi squad, Kinkaid is most likely to go back on taxi. He would still be able to practice with the team, and could be activated off the squad whenever the Rangers want him to play.

Kinkaid, 31, has always viewed this season as an opportunity to come back after suffering through the worst season of his career in 2019-20 and ending it in the minor leagues. He seems to have done that.

"It feels amazing, especially being a Ranger,’’ Kinkaid said of his success this season. "It's really something special, and I don't want to stop here. I want to keep it going.’’

"He has played really well,’’ acting coach Kris Knoblauch said of Kinkaid. "Really sharp.’’

Notes & quotes: The Rangers did not have a full team practice Tuesday. Only the extras skated. Shesterkin and forward Vitali Kravtsov, who has cleared COVID-19 protocol after coming over from the KHL, were among those who skated.

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