In case anyone who follows the Rangers had any doubts as to who their No. 1 goaltender is right now, coach David Quinn put them to bed when he announced that Igor Shesterkin would start in net against the Devils at the Garden on Saturday night.
Shesterkin had missed six games after suffering a broken rib in a Feb. 23 car accident in Brooklyn, but he had been skating for a week or so and had practiced fully with the team for the first time on Friday. So Quinn decided to put him back in Saturday.
“He felt really good [Friday] and he felt really good this morning,’’ Quinn said.
But Shesterkin’s feeling good didn’t translate into good things for the Rangers.
The Russian rookie, who entered with a 9-1 record, had his first bad game as an NHL player, allowing five goals on 23 shots in two periods before being pulled in the Rangers’ 6-4 loss to the Devils. He was replaced by Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped all five shots he saw.
“I felt good, but I wasn’t able to help the team, so I’m not feeling good about that,’’ Shesterkin said through an interpreter in the Rangers’ postgame news conference.
Shesterkin wasn’t the only Ranger to have an off night, according to Quinn. He conceded that Shesterkin looked rusty, but he said he knew he’d have to allow for that whenever he decided to put him back in the lineup.
“That said, the goaltender was the least of our problems tonight,’’ Quinn said. “I don’t think we had one guy have a good night tonight.’’
With the Islanders losing in overtime to Carolina earlier in the day and the Blue Jackets losing in Edmonton late Saturday night, the Rangers could have pulled within one point of a playoff spot. Instead, they are three points behind the Islanders and the Blue Jackets, who hold the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots. The Blueshirts are a point behind the Hurricanes and tied with the Panthers.
Shesterkin gave up two goals to the Devils’ Kyle Palmieri, the first of which came from a seemingly impossible angle, as Palmieri somehow beat him with a shot from a foot or two above the goal line out on the left wing. That tied the score at 1-1 at 6:22, just 48 seconds after Filip Chytil’s first goal in nine games had given the Rangers an early lead.
Mika Zibanejad, who had five goals in Thursday’s 6-5 win over Washington, scored his 39th goal to put the Rangers ahead 2-1 just 56 seconds after Palmieri’s goal. But the Rangers all said the lead was a mirage, because they hadn’t played well in the opening period.
“Coming into intermission we were leading, but we couldn’t find a way to get back to our game,’’ Zibanejad said. “We made it really easy for ’em and just didn’t have an answer. And we dug ourselves a hole. Going forward, in the playoffs and playoff-type games, we can’t do this. Just a bad performance overall.’’
Palmieri scored again 44 seconds into the second period, the first of four goals in the period for New Jersey.
Former Ranger Freddie Claesson, who had spent all season in the AHL with Carolina’s Charlotte farm team before being traded to the Devils at the deadline in the Sami Vatanen deal, gave the Devils the lead 48 seconds later, beating Shesterkin with a slap shot off the rush at 1:36.
Then, after Adam Fox took the Rangers’ first penalty of the game, Travis Zajac scored on the power play at 16:19. John Hayden’s deflection goal at 16:44 made it 5-2.
The Rangers’ Greg McKegg scored his fifth goal of the season at 13:42 of the third period.
Zajac added his second goal, an empty-netter with 56 seconds left, to make it 6-3. Tony DeAngelo scored his 15th goal with 43 seconds left.