Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31), second right, is congratulated by...

Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31), second right, is congratulated by teammates Adam Fox (23), Vincent Trocheck (16), and K'Andre Miller (79) following a game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Credit: AP/Karl B DeBlaker

Beating the Carolina Hurricanes, 1-0, Tuesday in their third and final meeting this season widened their lead over the second-place Hurricanes to six points in the race for the Metropolitan Division with 17 games to go. But the way Vincent Trocheck sees things, winning the division would be nice, but it’s not exactly the end goal.

“It's a little added motivation, I guess,’’ he said. “I think at the end of the day, it's just, these are teams that we're going to have to beat. And regular season, whether we're first, (second, or) third, doesn't matter. It's, we want to beat these guys. We want to beat every team in our division. We want to be the best.’’

The Rangers, who are 43-18-4 going into the second game of the road trip Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, have indeed beaten every team in the division this season. In fact, they’ve beaten every team in the league with the exception of Florida and Vegas. They’re 0-2 against both, and have one meeting left with league-leading Florida, March 23 at Madison Square Garden.

Beside those two (and both of the games against Vegas came during the Rangers’ January struggles) coach Peter Laviolette’s team has shown it matches up well against everyone else, especially now that goalie Igor Shesterkin has found his groove.

Shesterkin, who was up-and-down the first half of the season and who struggled through January, is 9-1-1 since the beginning of February, with three shutouts, the last two coming back-to-back. He has allowed 18 goals in 661 minutes in that span, compiling a 1.63 goals-against average, and a .951 save percentage.

Overall, he is 28-13-2, with a 2.54 GAA and a .914 save percentage. If he can keep up his strong play going into the playoffs, the Rangers will have the advantage in goal in almost any playoff series against any opponent.

“Late in the season, going into the playoffs, having a hot goalie – or, in our case, not necessarily hot, just really good, always – it goes a long way,’’ Trocheck said. “You see a lot of teams that end up winning the Cup, their goaltender gets hot and stands on his head (and) steals a couple of games here and there. Shesty is capable of doing that any given night.’’

The trick for the Rangers will be to play well enough in front of Shesterkin when the games matter the most, to maximize their chances.

They have played some of their tightest defensive hockey in the three games since last Friday’s NHL trade deadline, limiting odd-man rushes against – always one of their glaring weaknesses. Overall, they have allowed 26, 20 and 28 shots against. They have given up one goal against in the three games.

“You know, when we limit those high-quality chances – (Shesterkin)'s not going to be able to save everything, especially those Grade A (scoring opportunities) – but when you're able to keep it to the outside, and let him see shots, and when you need the occasional big save, he'll be there to make it,’’ defenseman Adam Fox said. “We've tried to help him out, and obviously he's helped us out a lot too.’’

If they can continue to play defense like that, and if Shesterkin can play as well as he has the last six weeks, the Rangers look like a team that can go a long way in the spring.

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