It should have been a great night across the Hudson River for the Rangers. Their hottest player, Chris Kreider, scored his second hat trick in five games as the Blueshirts kicked off their longest road trip of the season with a 6-1 win over the Devils on Thursday night.
Except the sight of goaltender Igor Shesterkin lying face down after a two-on-one shot by Damon Severson with 5:52 remaining in the game soured everything for the Rangers.
"It is a lower-body injury, and we’ll know a lot more tomorrow morning,’’ coach David Quinn said. "That’s kind of the status of him right now.’’
The Rangers have won five of their last seven games and hope to go on an extended run to get themselves back into the playoff race, but if Shesterkin is out for an extended period, that might be a problem.
The 25-year-old Russian, who was brilliant in the first two periods when the Rangers needed him to be, went down after sliding over, left to right, to defend Severson's shot. He had to be helped off, unable to put his right skate on the ice.
Alexandar Georgiev finished the game. Now the Rangers (9-9-3) must hope Shesterkin isn’t seriously hurt and won’t be out for too long.
"Yeah, that hurts, especially the way Igor’s been playing,’’ said Kreider, who scored twice in the second period to dig the Rangers out from a 1-0 deficit, then scored his third in the opening minute of the third to put the Rangers up 3-1 and send them on their way to the runaway win. "Hopefully it’s not too serious and not too long.’’
Shesterkin made 32 saves in 54:08, including stopping 13 of 14 in the first period, when the Rangers were outshot 14-6 and were outplayed by the Devils. He, more than any other player, held the fort for the Rangers until Kreider scored on a power play at 8:28 of the second period and then tipped in Ryan Lindgren’s shot at 13:57 of the second to put the Rangers ahead 2-1.
Kreider completed the natural hat trick with his 13th goal of the season — and ninth in the last six games — 23 seconds into the third period, lunging to redirect a pass from Filip Chytil to make it 3-1.
Goals by Pavel Buchnevich at 3:57, Brendan Smith at 15:25 and Alexis Lafreniere at 18:27 turned the game into a rout and completed the Rangers’ second straight victory.
The win, the injury to Shesterkin and Kreider’s hat trick combined to nearly obscure the fact that Quinn benched his No. 1 center, Mika Zibanejad, for the first half of the second period.
Zibanejad, who has struggled all season, played a total of 3:59 in the first period and sat on the bench for the first 11 minutes of the second. He finished with 13:04 of ice time, less than everyone except Julien Gauthier (12:59) and Phillip DiGiuseppe (11:45). Zibanejad did get an assist on Lafreniere’s goal.
"I think he’s letting the stats and all the pressure kind of slow him down a little bit,’’ Quinn said. "I think it’s getting to him. This is a guy that’s been a fearless player; he’s been a courageous player . . . But something’s just missing.’’
The game was the first of two in New Jersey to start the trip. The teams will play again Saturday afternoon.
After that, the Rangers will go to Pittsburgh for games on Sunday and Tuesday, followed by games in Boston on Thursday and March 13.