The Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko looks at the puck as Rangers...

The Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko looks at the puck as Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin defends during the first period of an NHL game on Thursday in St. Louis. Credit: AP/Jeff Roberson

ST. LOUIS — So many times this season, Igor Shesterkin has done superhuman things to keep the Rangers in games long enough to allow them to find their footing late and eke out a win. It’s something the Blueshirts have almost come to expect and rely upon.

On Thursday night, though, with Shesterkin back in net against the Blues after sitting out Tuesday’s loss in Minnesota, things didn’t play out that way.

Shesterkin held the fort for the Rangers as they took three early penalties and were outshot 10-0 to start the game. But this time it didn’t last.

St. Louis scored three goals in a span of 2:36 late in the first period and beat the Rangers, 6-2.

And Shesterkin, who not only has been the best goalie in the NHL but a candidate for the Hart Trophy as the league MVP, was pulled 15 seconds into the second period after allowing four goals on 17 shots. It was the first time he’s been pulled from a game, other than because of injury or concussion protocol testing, since his rookie season of 2019-20.

"He had no chance on the first goal, and a couple tap-ins,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said angrily. "No chance at all. So you get frustrated and you hope you wake your guys up. It didn’t, really, but they should be embarrassed a little bit, the way this guy plays for them all year, and then they come out tonight and play like that — after a game in Minnesota that we weren’t too good.’’

Barclay Goodrow said the Rangers cannot allow themselves to rely on Shesterkin to keep them in games until they find themselves.

"That just can’t be our mentality,’’ Goodrow said. "I don’t think we’d be in this spot in the season, in the standings, if he wasn’t playing as well as he has been. We’ve relied on him a lot of nights, and he’s been there. He’s been a rock back there for us. So it’s on us as players to do a better job in front of him.’’

Gallant, who has been relentlessly positive and optimistic, probably was the angriest he has been all season. He called his team "soft.’’

"The way we started, the three penalties — and we killed the penalties, that was the best part of it — and then to give them up three goals like that, and just looked soft,’’ he said. "We looked soft.’’

The Rangers (36-17-5) remained in a tie with Pittsburgh for second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Robert Thomas had two goals for the Blues. The first, a backdoor tap-in off a rush at 13:05, made it 1-0. Forty-five seconds later, Ivan Barbashev was left alone in the low slot to sweep in Brandon Saad’s pass from behind the net. Thomas’ second goal made it 3-0 at 15:41.

The Rangers’ Ryan Strome scored on a power play at 18:37 of the first period, but when Ryan O’Reilly was left alone in the high slot and scored to make it 4-1 just 15 seconds into the second period, Gallant pulled Shesterkin and inserted Alexandar Georgiev.

Georgiev made a couple of saves early, but with the Blues skating six-on-five during a delayed penalty, the relief goalie lost his edge and fell down just as Jake Walman fired a shot from the right point. That made it 5-1 at 7:07. Thirty-eight seconds later, David Perron scored to make it 6-1.

K’Andre Miller got the Rangers’ second goal, and second power-play goal, when he drove to the net and redirected a pass from Artemi Panarin behind St. Louis goalie Ville Husso at 12:23 to make it 6-2.

St. Louis played without former Ranger Pavel Buchnevich, who missed the game while in concussion protocol.

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