Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin, right, deflects a shot by Colorado...

Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin, right, deflects a shot by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews in overtime of an NHL hockey game Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, in Denver.  Credit: AP/David Zalubowski

After acknowledging that Igor Shesterkin’s 41-save performance was the biggest reason they managed to beat the banged-up Colorado Avalanche in a shootout on Friday night, the Rangers hardly were gloating about sweeping their two-game road trip and stretching their winning streak to three games.

“I think we’ll have to play better, for sure,’’ Artemi Panarin said. “Because it’s still a close game, and they have lots of injuries.’’

Yes, the Rangers (14-10-5) did beat the Western Conference’s top team, Vegas, and defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado on the trip, but both teams were diminished versions of themselves.

Vegas was without leading scorer Jack Eichel because of injury and high-scoring defenseman Alex Pietrangelo because of a family illness. Colorado was minus its top two forwards, Gabe Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon, among others.

And still, the Avalanche nearly beat the Rangers, who were simply awful in the first period before picking things up in the second.

Ultimately, the Rangers needed Shesterkin to resemble the 2021-22 version of himself just to make it to the shootout.

Shesterkin made a huge glove save on Cale Makar late in overtime and then a post-to-post pad save on a backdoor tap-in try by Devon Toews just before the horn sounded. He also stopped both shots he faced in the shootout, and goals by Mika Zibanejad and Panarin won it for the Rangers.

Still, following a 1-4-1 slide with a three-game winning streak certainly is a good thing for the Rangers, and Shesterkin believes it could be the start of a turnaround.

“Yeah, I think so,’’ said Shesterkin, who is 13-4-4. “We get some confidence, of course, after a three-game streak, but we have to keep focused on our game and keep going.’’

The 5-1 win in Las Vegas certainly was the best the Rangers have looked since their 3-1 win over Tampa Bay in the season opener.

The new-look first line of Zibanejad between 21-year-old wingers Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko was dynamite in that game, with each youngster scoring, as did their former Kid Line center, Filip Chytil.

Zibanejad scored two power-play goals, both on his signature one-timer from the left circle.

But the Lafrenière-Zibanejad-Kakko line didn’t look so good against Colorado. They were dominated in the first period, when the Rangers fell behind 1-0, and with the way coach Gerard Gallant has been mixing his lines lately, there was a question as to whether he would stay with that group.

He did, and the Rangers tied the score in the second period on a goal by another 21-year-old, defenseman Braden Schneider.

So it figures that Gallant will stay with that group — and the Panarin-Chytil-Barclay Goodrow trio — for Monday’s game against the Devils, at least.

“Keep it rolling, you know?’’ Gallant said when asked about the winning streak. “We weren’t perfect . But we will take it. We’ll go back home and we don’t play again until Monday. And that’ll be a tough one against New Jersey, but we’ll enjoy this one and then fly home . . . practice Sunday and then go back to work.’’

When they do go back to work, they will do so with the comfort of knowing that Shesterkin — who declared himself “ashamed’’ of how he was playing after the last game against New Jersey — seems to be getting back to the form that earned him the Vezina Trophy last season.

Don’t expect him to admit that.

“I don’t want to talk about it right now,’’ Shesterkin said when asked if he feels better about his game than he did after that last Devils game.

“It doesn’t matter now. We have to get two points every night, so our focus is on that.’’


 

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