Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers makes a save in the second...

Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers makes a save in the second period against Mark Friedman of the Penguins during Game 2 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

PITTSBURGH — Rangers coach Gerard Gallant was asked Monday about the mood of Igor Shesterkin in the leadup to Game 4 of the first-round playoff series against the Penguins. 

“He seems to be real happy,’’ Gallant said of the Rangers goaltender after the morning skate in advance of the game. “Yesterday, he was fine. Day off, everybody relaxed, and you get back in the net. That's all you want to do. Get back in the net and play a good game. Hopefully, things go well for us. I’m not worried about Igor one bit.’’

Shesterkin, the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie this season, was pulled following the first period of Saturday’s Game 3 loss after he’d given up four goals and the Rangers trailed 4-1. Gallant replaced him with Alexandar Georgiev and he played well, stopping 19 of 20 shots. The Rangers tied it at 4 before eventually losing, 7-4, to fall behind in the best-of-seven series, 2-1.

But Shesterkin was back in goal for Game 4 Monday. And Gallant was expecting the 26-year-old Moscow native to be more like the player who led the league in goals-against average (2.07) and save percentage (.935) in the regular season than the one who looked shaky on Saturday.

“I expect him to be outstanding,’’ Gallant had said Sunday. “It's a ‘one-off,’ for me. Stuff happens like that. And again, nobody's blaming him. You know what I mean? Our team was dominated the first period . . . so it's nothing on Igor. It was two lucky goals the first two, and away we go."

The two “lucky’’ goals Gallant was referring to were scored by Brock McGinn, who was behind the net, and Jeff Carter, who was on top of the goal crease.

On the McGinn goal, the Penguins forward got to a loose puck behind the goal line and quickly whipped it to the front, where it bounced off defenseman Patrik Nemeth, off Shesterkin and in just 1:57 into the game. On the Carter goal, which broke a 1-1 tie, Evan Rodrigues sent a wrist shot through traffic that Shesterkin caught, but his glove banged into Carter and the puck popped loose and slithered through Shesterkin and across the goal line.

That made it 2-1, and Shesterkin seemed to lose something after that. He allowed two more goals, both to Rodrigues, and he seemed unsteady. He wasn't catching pucks cleanly and looked herky-jerky in his movements, as if he were seeing the puck late, then having to scramble to keep it out.

All of this delighted the Pittsburgh fans, who serenaded him with derisive chants of “EE-Gor! EE-Gor!’’ The fans cheered the announcement of Georgiev taking over, and were no doubt going to have a good time mocking Shesterkin again in Game 4.

On Sunday, Gallant had said he’d pulled Shesterkin to try and change momentum in a game in which the Rangers did not play well in the first period. He also thought Shesterkin, who’d faced 83 and 41 shots in the first two games of the series, would benefit from a rest. Shesterkin’s teammates, though, seemed shocked he was pulled. They also felt responsible.

“I think we know that we didn't play good enough, like we've been sleeping the whole first period,’’ Kaapo Kakko said. “So we need to do something, and play better.’’

“Anytime your goalie gets pulled, it's on the team in front of him to be better,’’ defenseman Justin Braun said. “Create less chances for them, and spend less time in your ‘D’ zone. We didn't do a very good job of that in the first.’’

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