Game #55 Shesterkin survives injury scare to make NHL history in 4-1 win at Winnipeg, Kreider pumps in two more goals to increase value, hearts with Jay Bouwmeester

The Rangers celebrate a Chris Kreider power play goal that made it 2-0 end route to a 4-1 statement win at the Jets in Winnipeg. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

The Rangers went into Winnipeg and came out victorious at very loud Bell MTS Place. On a special night in which the Jets honored past great players Thomas Steen and Randy Carlyle by inducting them into their Hall of Fame, it was the Blueshirts who spoiled the fun by posting an impressive 4-1 victory.

It was their second win in a row and third over the last four. In fact, since returning from the break, they’ve won five of seven to move up to 60 points in 55 games played. Coupled with a Flyers 5-3 loss at the Islanders due to giving up a Ryan Pulock goal in the final minute after rallying to tie it, the Rangers find themselves in an interesting position.

With the Hurricanes losing and Florida winning at the Devils 5-3, the wildcard picture is tightening up. The Isles win allowed them to jump over idle Columbus back into third place with 72 points. The Blue Jackets are in the first wildcard with 70 while the Jekyll and Hyde Flyers are at 69. Each has 25 games left. Carolina sits two back with a game at hand and the Panthers are three out with 26 left. They also stayed within two of Toronto, who got a huge break on a controversial disallowed Jacob Chychrun goal before winning in overtime over Arizona. All I’ll say is it’s classic Toronto. See my tweet below.

If that’s goaltender interference on Derek Stepan when he’s clearly outside the crease with Jack Campbell coming out to challenge, I don’t understand the rule. He did make a little contact before the shot, but not with his skate. It seems like the Coyotes got screwed. They are fighting for the playoffs too. This one benefitted the NHL’s chosen team.

Moving on. I want to send my very best wishes and prayers to Jay Bouwmeester. He collapsed on the Blues bench during the first period of their game against the Ducks. His life was saved by a trainer who used a defibrillator. Thank god. I don’t need to remind anyone what happened over a decade ago to Alexei Cherepanov in the KHL. Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis also come to mind.

Some things are much bigger than hockey. Let’s hope Bouwmeester makes a full recovery and can live a productive and healthy life with his family. The hockey community are thinking about him tonight.

I think it goes without saying how much everyone cares. This isn’t about sports. It’s about life. Having attended a wake the other night for a friend’s father, I am very sensitive to this stuff. I just want the very best for Bouwmeester going forward.

It’s hard to even transition to reviewing the game. But I will do the best I can. This was the first road start for Igor Shesterkin. The 24-year old Russian netminder passed his road test with flying colors. He hit a bit of a speed bump when Tony DeAngelo accidentally shoved Andrew Copp into him to send the rookie goalie to the ice lying on his back. It was panic time for Rangerstown.

Igor Shesterkin is down on the ice following an accidental collision with Andrew Copp due to teammate Tony DeAngelo pushing him from behind for interference. He would leave the game due to concussion protocol and later return to make 42 saves in the Rangers win over Winnipeg. AP Photo credit New York Post via Getty Images

The strange part of this whole thing is DeAngelo took his penalty at 8:12 of the first period. Shesterkin was able to get up and continue. It wasn’t until several minutes later that Rangers trainer came out to take Shesterkin off the ice due to the concussion spotter making a phone call. Like Sam Rosen wisely pointed out, why did it take so long?

The Rangers weren’t happy following the game. In any event, Shesterkin showed no signs of being hurt. He was sharp afterwards and really composed like usual. Henrik Lundqvist came in and made one good reactionary save on a one-timer. He played the remaining 6:04 of the first finishing with that one save. A credit to how well the team played.

With less than a minute left in the period, a heads up play by Pavel Buchnevich sent Chris Kreider in behind the Jets defense. The sizzling hot left wing flew in and went to his patented backhand tuck around Connor Hellebuyck for his 21st goal with 35 seconds remaining. It was a beauty. His bread and butter move to give him 15 goals and 26 points in his last 26 games. He wasn’t done. Apparently, this happened before in the same exact building nearly five years ago. Wow.

The game also marked the return of Jacob Trouba to Winnipeg since asking for a trade last summer. Booed early on, the Jets did recognize him with a nice video tribute during a stoppage turning jeers to cheers. He gave them five and a half good years. Brendan Lemieux also made his return without as much hoopla.

They cheered when Trouba took a incidental tripping minor penalty on Kyle Connor at the 16-second mark of the second. However, a strong penalty kill along with an impenetrable Shesterkin easily killed off the second Jets power play.

Continuing to play a good road game, the Rangers went to work on the power play. With Gabriel Bourque off for hooking Brady Skjei, it only took them 16 seconds to set up Kreider for his second of the game. On a good play from both Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome, a quick low shot off Hellebuyck rebounded out to Strome, who found Kreider for his 22nd at 7:30. It was his 10th goal in the last 12 dating back to Jan. 7. He’s playing the best hockey of his career. There aren’t enough adjectives.

Since 12/8, Kreider is up to 16 goals with 11 assists for 27 points in his last 26 games. That means that 27 of his 40 points have come since then. That’s also 16 of his 22 goals. That’s absurd. He is in full beast mode. It’s like his season didn’t really begin until my birthday. Pure coincidence.

As for the rest of the period, outside of Ryan Lindgren not backing down from Patrik Laine when the two exchanged pleasantries to get matching minors for slashing and cross-checking, it was played exclusively at even strength. Mostly at five-on-five. To their credit, the Rangers didn’t give the free wheeling and ultra skilled Jets the time and space they wanted to make plays through the neutral zone. They love high tempo.

Shesterkin didn’t have to contend with breakaways or many uncontested break ins. The Blueshirt defense saw to it that the dangerous Winnipeg stars which include Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Nik Ehlers were kept in front of them. They allowed Shesterkin to see most of the shots. He stopped them. He’s very mature and technically sound. If the puck hits him, it’s not going anywhere. Laine found that out a few times. He had a game high seven shots with Ehlers right behind with six good ones.

We like to kill our team when the defense doesn’t get it done. But I have no complaints for any of the six D. That includes Brady Skjei and Trouba. They were good along with emerging five-on-five pair Lindgren and Adam Fox. There was a lot to like. Marc Staal also had a better night and DeAngelo recovered from his bad penalty that nearly decapitated Shesterkin.

There was one extended shift for the trio of Strome, Artemi Panarin and Jesper Fast that got them going. DeAngelo was a key factor during it nearly setting up a goal with an excellent pass in the slot. The Winnipeg crowd groaned their displeasure. Defensively speaking, the Jets can be forechecked. They rely heavily on the top pair of Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey. Pionk logged 26:51 for coach Paul Maurice, who also double shifted Laine (25:35), Scheifele (26:01) and Connor (26:04). Wheeler also got 20:49 while Morrissey received 21:12. The big name forwards and Pionk got a bulk of it on the power play with all going over six minutes.

Maurice doesn’t have much choice. He’s still without several regulars including Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, Luca Sbisa and Tucker Poolman. If they make the playoffs, Maurice should get Jack Adams consideration. Don’t forget the whole Dustin Byfuglien debacle either. He’s free to sign with anyone.

I’ll be brutally honest. Outside of Jack Roslovic, who I am interested in, and Sami Niku, they aren’t that deep. That’s why high character guys like Lowry, Perreault and Copp, who’s healthy, matter. They sure could use Little. But he remains out indefinitely due to a perforated eardrum and vertigo. It doesn’t sound like they’re going to be getting many guys back soon except Sbisa, who’s day to day.

If Hellebuyck didn’t make some tough stops, this would’ve been a rout. He’s played extremely well without much help from his defense. He came in with a .920 save percentage. He deserves a medal for it. Without him, they would be sunk. He’s responsible for 24 of their 29 wins. Backup Laurent Brossoit hasn’t provided much relief.

As much as we want to heap praise on Igor for making NHL history as the only goalie to record 40 saves or more in three wins of the first seven starts, he didn’t have to stand on his head. He did wind up with 42 saves overall including 11 for 11 shorthanded and 31 of 32 at even strength. Eighteen stops came in a busier third when the Jets finally turned up the heat after falling behind by four.

Sure. There were a couple of strong denials pointblank like on Laine down low on a broken play. However, his defense including the forwards were more responsible and made life easier. There weren’t any jailbreaks. There was a quiet confidence to how the team played in front of him. It’s almost as if they know they have a good chance to win. There was no panic.

Instead, it was the Jets who imploded at the start of the third. On the first shift, Panarin got into open space in transition and made a good back pass for a Fast shot that went right to Strome, who found the rebound and put it past Hellebuyck at 53 seconds for a 3-0 lead.

The hot air went out of the Winnipeg balloon. Not even a minute later, Hellebuyck misplayed a puck to Buchnevich, who was stopped. However, he had plenty of time to retrieve the loose puck behind the net and send it back in front for Zibanejad to finish for number 23 at 1:28. It was Buchnevich’s second apple of the game. He’s been a different player since the second half began. It started before the break. Why can’t he have this level of consistency more often?

Even with the explosive Jets down 4-0, I never felt they had any chance at a comeback. Game. Set. Match. It was like Novak Djokovic in Australia, or Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Or even a young Lundqvist in his prime where you knew the opponent had no hope of a comeback. Unfortunately, he doesn’t belong in the same sentence as the other two tennis legends. I’m just illustrating a point.

Shesterkin has this aura about him already. All he does is win no matter what. The Drake punchline. Yes, Ehlers caught a break when his shot took a lucky bounce off Lindgren in front for his 20th at 4:35 as the Winnipeg power play expired. Kaapo Kakko was in the box for hooking due to a Filip Chytil turnover. If Fil gets the puck in deep, there’s no penalty. But he didn’t. A learning experience for him. Kakko nearly made it two straight games with a goal on a power move to the net, but couldn’t elevate the puck over Hellebuyck.

I felt Phil Di Giuseppe had another solid game. He didn’t hurt himself while playing with the kids on the third line. Even Brett Howden was noticeable defensively providing valuable minutes shorthanded. He also won four of six draws.

The only area they team struggled was on face-offs. Winnipeg went 29-and-20 paced by Scheifele (12 for 20). Copp (7 and 4) and Wheeler (7 and 5) were also good. For our side, only Howden had a winning percentage while Zibanejad finished an even 10 and 10. Strome went 4 and 7 while Chytil struggled losing 8 of 10. If they do make the decision to move on from Strome to re-sign Kreider, Chytil is going to have to improve.

Even though the Jets outshot the Rangers 44-32 (19-11 in 3rd) and wound up with 81 attempts to our team’s 50, it was mostly by design. They played more defensively in the final period and let Shesterkin do the work. However, it’s not like they didn’t generate shots or chances. The Jets had no answer for either top line. Panarin could’ve done more damage. He was dangerous as the game wore on.

Even though the Bread Man isn’t putting up as many points, the Blueshirts are becoming a better team. They’re no longer a pushover. You can see the confidence growing in the young kids such as Chytil, Kakko, Howden, Fox and Lindgren. Just by sitting Brendan Smith and promoting Di Giuseppe, it allows Quinn to have a semblance of a fourth line he can trust with Lemieux not playing a top nine role.

There’s an awful lot to like about this win and the direction the team is taking. Things are finally looking up.

Battle of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Ryan Strome, Rangers (goal number 13 and apple for first multi-point game since Jan. 9)

2nd 🌟 Igor Shesterkin, Rangers (42 saves on 43 shots in 53:56 to improve to 6-1-0)

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider, Rangers (2 goals for numbers 21 and 22, 16-11-27 in last 26 games)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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