The last time Igor Shesterkin played in New Jersey, he ended up suffering a groin injury late in the game that would sideline him for three weeks.
Things turned out a little better this time.
Shesterkin was brilliant again Tuesday when the Rangers needed him to be. And on a night when there were several significant highlights for the Blueshirts, none was bigger than the 25-year-old rookie from Russia earning his first NHL shutout in the Rangers’ 3-0 victory over the Devils at Prudential Center in Newark, in the first of four straight games the teams will play against each other.
Shesterkin made 27 saves to foil the Devils at every turn, while fellow Russians Artemi Panarin and Pavel Buchnevich scored milestone goals for the Rangers, who won their 20th game of the year (20-16-6).
Panarin’s goal, his 13th of the season at 7:50 of the third period, gave him 138 points in his first 100 games as a Ranger, breaking the team record held by Mark Messier. Buchnevich’s goal, which came shorthanded and into an empty net, was the 20,000th goal in Rangers history.
"I don't think Buchie knew until after, but it's definitely cool,’’ Mika Zibanejad said of Buchnevich’s goal, which came with 28 seconds remaining.
The win allowed the Rangers keep pace in the playoff race with the team they are chasing for the final playoff spot in the East Division, the Boston Bruins. Boston beat the last-place Buffalo Sabres, 3-2 in a shootout to maintain its four-point lead over the Rangers. The Rangers have 14 games remaining; the Bruins have 16.
"We still have meaningful games to play here, and we want to continue to play those games,’’ said Zibanejad, who had scored the Rangers’ first goal in the first period. "Igor played great, kept us in the game. And we found a way to come out on the third [period] and play a lot better. And got the win.’’
They would have had no chance to do that had not Shesterkin stopped breakaways in each of the first two periods by Devils forward Miles Wood. Shesterkin also foiled Wood on a two-on-one in the second.
"He's a great goalie,’’ Panarin said of Shesterkin, through interpreter Nick Bobrov, the Rangers director of European Scouting. "And he keeps being great when we need him. We need him, and I congratulate him on his first shutout.’’
Shesterkin, playing in his 36th game since getting called up from the minor leagues midway through the 2019-20 season acknowledged that getting his first shutout meant a great deal to him.
"It obviously means a lot, and I want to thank all the players who played in front of me, and blocked shots all game, especially at the end when it was so meaningful to me to get this win, and the shut out,’’ he said. "They did it for me, and I'm thankful.’’
When general manager Jeff Gorton opted not to make a trade before Monday’s deadline, that meant the Rangers were going to ride out the rest of the regular season with the same roster that got them to this point in the playoff race.
Which was welcome news for the players.
"It obviously helps to relax when it's all over, and everyone's staying put, the team is staying the same,’’ Panarin said.
Zibanejad’s 15th goal of the season, at 7:02 of the first period, gave the Rangers the lead and both teams clamped down in the second period with very little happening, especially on the Rangers’ end. They had only four shots on goal against McKenzie Blackwood in the middle period.
But Panarin’s goal gave them breathing room in the third, and Buchnevich’s, with Ryan Lindgren sitting out a high sticking penalty, put the game away.