Emotional Shesterkin returns to lead Rangers to exciting 2-1 win over Bruins in unpredictable shootout, Miller gets winner

Twenty-four hours ago, there was a great college hockey game played up in Boston between Northeastern and Boston University. It was won by BU 1-0 on a late goal to lead the Terriers to the Beanpot Title on Monday night.

That was an exciting one-goal game that had tight checking, great goaltending and a tremendous finish. A night later at MSG, it was the Rangers and Bruins who battled tooth and nail for 65 minutes before an unpredictable shootout decided it. Thanks to a fired up Igor Shesterkin, who returned following concussion protocol, he led the Rangers to a 2-1 win in a long shootout won in the ninth round by unlikely hero K’Andre Miller.

What a game. The first one they’ve played in two weeks turned into one of the best of this Cinderella season. It didn’t start out that way. Predictably rusty from the 14-day layoff, the Rangers could barely do anything in the early going. A sloppy neutral zone turnover allowed the Bruins to score first when Charlie Coyle put in a rebound of a Craig Smith shot at 3:39.

While Boston took it to them, the Rangers couldn’t muster any sustained attack. They went over 12 minutes before getting a shot on goal. When Ryan Reaves did, the crowd gave a mock cheer. The Rangers only had two in the period. It was that tough to watch.

Despite only a handful of players looking awake, they only trailed by one. They were outshot 8-2 in the first. The positive was they started to get going the final six minutes. Even without testing Jeremy Swayman, who was superb making 33 saves on 34 shots, they put together some good shifts. The Bruins defended extremely well.

If they really struggled in the first, the second was much different. Playing at a much better tempo, the Rangers were the aggressors early and often in a much better second. You didn’t need to close your eyes. The action was fast and furious.

Finally able to forecheck and generate scoring chances, the Blueshirts took it to the Bruins. The ice was tilted for a good majority of the period. It started early with a flurry. Following a Swayman stop on Ryan Strome, he denied both Kevin Rooney and Greg McKegg point blank to keep the Rangers off the scoreboard.

The 23-year old Bruins rookie netminder out of Maine was very strong. Coming off a shutout at Ottawa, he carried his steady play into a classic rivalry against a better Rangers team. In fact, Swayman increased his shutout streak to five periods and over 100 minutes before the night concluded. Nearly half of his 33 saves came in a 15 shot second.

With his younger counterpart making it difficult for our shooters, that meant Shesterkin had to hold the Bruins at one. They played a smart defensive game without Patrice Bergeron and the suspended Brad Marchand. Although the Rangers had more shots the rest of the way, Boston did a good job keeping most to the outside.

The play was exclusively at five-on-five. No penalties were called the first forty minutes. There was no reason. You had a mostly clean hockey game being played by both teams. It made for a fun watch. The Rangers held a 15-9 edge in shots in the second. With the top six unable to get untracked, the third line showed flashes. Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier each had chances. They played with Dryden Hunt.

One storyline that developed was the impressive play from Zac Jones and Braden Schneider. With Gerard Gallant indicating that Patrik Nemeth wasn’t ready to go, Jones got another opportunity and teamed up with Schneider on the third pair. The rookie tandem played very poised in their end and created some offense. Jones nearly connected with Gauthier. Schneider would later be a factor.

Still down a goal, Shesterkin made a good save on Taylor Hall. They would have another close encounter later. Adam Fox jumped into the rush on a counterattack and had a wrist shot gloved by Swayman. It was his first game back since the injury that against Columbus that kept him out before the All-Star break. He looked good. Fox finished with four shots in 24:24 to lead all Blueshirt skaters.

Jake DeBrusk got a good chance on a rush, but Shesterkin denied him. Before the second ended, Strome had another bid that was stopped by Swayman. When he wasn’t hitting the net, he was firing wide off the boards. Strome has no goals in the last eight games. They need him to pop a few.

Still trailing by a goal, the Rangers didn’t panic. With Boston opting to protect their lead, it was only a matter of time before someone got it tied.

For the most part, Gallant stuck with his four lines and three defense pairs. Outside of double shifting Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin for shifts in the final minute of the second, he didn’t feel the need to change things up. That formula paid off.

On a smart pass from Schneider up for Hunt, he was able to find a skating Chytil who kept his skate on the blue line to stay on side. He then took a low wrist shot that jammed Swayman just enough to let out a juicy rebound that Chytil put home for the big tying goal at 6:45. It was his fifth from Hunt and Schneider. He deserved it. This was one of his better games. Especially after missing time.

Not long after that goal, Hall got behind Miller on a stretch pass for a clean breakaway. With the game hanging in the balance, a very patient Shesterkin read Hall’s move and then easily handled his backhand in tight to loud cheers and chants of “Ig-or, Ig-or!!”

That sequence came with over 11 minutes left in regulation. It is uncanny how good Shesterkin is on breakaways. He stays very calm and reads the play well. His reaction is eerily similar to predecessor Henrik Lundqvist, who in his prime was superb at big moments too. How lucky can one team get with goalies? From Lundqvist to Shesterkin. Both stolen in drafts. Unbelievable.

Jones nearly had Reaves moments later. But his tip-in just missed. What I like about both Jones and Schneider is they’re not shy about jumping in. They both seem to know when to go. That’s important. For their age, they are pretty advanced. Schneider especially. He uses his size well. He delivered a clean hit on David Pastrnak, who was kept in check. Not easy considering how hot he’s been.

The first penalty of the game was called on Miller. After getting beaten inside, he took a retaliatory tripping minor on Charlie Coyle following being checked. It was an overreaction. However, the Bruins looked lost without Marchand and Bergeron on the power play. The best chance actually was shorthanded with a Fox shot hitting the crossbar. Shesterkin denied Matt Grzelcyk from distance with a player in front.

Shesterkin would later rob Anton Blidh twice with over five minutes left. Incredible. During a stoppage, things got heated when Tomas Nosek gave Jacob Trouba a cross-check. He responded with a few punches. Each received two minutes to create a four-on-four.

Following a Jones giveaway, he hustled back to break up a pass. That’s the skating and instincts you want to see. Of course, Strome missed on a wide open chance that he could’ve scored on. He was on the puck and attempted several shots with his five pacing the team. He needs to bury a few.

During the four-on-four, Miller got a step on Charlie McAvoy who took him down. Power play good guys. They should’ve declined it. Nothing happened. Curtis Lazar got a shorthanded chance forcing Shesterkin into a save. The power play was out of sync.

With under 10 seconds left, the Bruins made a late push. Shesterkin denied both Derek Forbort and Trent Frederic. He then had to make one final glove save on a last second Pastrnak bid off a lost draw. Zibanejad lost to Nosek. That stuff will really matter this Spring.

The three-on-three was fantastic. Each side had several opportunities to end it. Shesterkin stopped Pastrnak. Then Swayman made a glove save on Panarin and denied Trouba. He also kicked out a tricky low shot from Alexis Lafreniere.

Maybe the best save came from Shesterkin when he robbed Pastrnak on a backdoor pass to stone him of the winner. The crowd went ballistic. There was so much action in the five-minute overtime that it felt like the playoffs. Tons of end to end rushes and superb saves.

Things got testy when Craig Smith banged into Shesterkin after the play and illegally put the puck in. That caused chaos with Lafreniere going right after Smith and throwing punches. He deserved it for that crap. Both got matching minors. Smith for goaltender interference and Lafreniere for roughing. Good for Laffy sticking up for Shesty.

It was following a shot on goal that led to a stoppage with 40.5 seconds left that concussion spotters phoned down to the Rangers. Out came trainer Jim Ramsay to the ice to inform Shesterkin that he had to come out. An incensed Igor slammed his stick against the glass. He was intense. I don’t blame him. But that’s the rules. They want to make sure players are okay.

In a strange scene, Shesterkin tapped backup Alex Georgiev, who came in ice cold for the remainder of OT. Good thing he didn’t face any shots. That’s not easy. After a timeout by Gallant with six seconds to go, Kreider tried to go forward with the puck against Coyle. It didn’t work. While many wondered if Turk used the timeout to give Shesterkin extra time to recover, I didn’t. There was enough time for a shot.

With the drama building, out came Shesterkin back to the ice to cheers and more chants. This felt like a bigger scene. Not a regular season game. He really wanted to be in there to finish it. After they double checked upstairs, Shesterkin was cleared to return for the shootout. What a shootout it was.

As if there hadn’t been enough drama, out came DeBrusk who went with so much speed that it had to surprise Shesterkin. DeBrusk scored on a nice wrist shot blocker side. In the bottom of the first, a very patient Mika Zibanejad faked out Swayman with a forehand tuck to even it up.

After Shesterkin gave Pastrnak nothing by easily getting his glove on the second attempt, Panarin put on a series of moves before tucking a backhand around Swayman’s pads for a 2-1 lead. But with the pressure on, Coyle coolly evened it by beating Shesterkin glove side to set up an attempt from Lafreniere.

I liked what Gallant did there. He wanted to give the kid a chance to win it after what he did for Shesterkin. But the Broadway show didn’t end that way. Instead, Swayman read his move to the backhand to deny Lafreniere.

Following Round 3, it became a goalie duel. Nobody budged. It didn’t matter if it was a good shooter. Swayman denied Fox on a forehand deke. Shesterkin calmly gloved Hall’s shot by challenging. Even on a shootout attempt, Strome missed wide with plenty of real estate. Maybe he needs the same prescription glasses the Charlie Sheen character Rick Vaughn used in Major League.

McAvoy tried something different by going for a backhand to change the angle. Shesterkin wasn’t biting. After Swayman stopped Kreider, five more shooters came up empty including Smith, who was booed. When Gallant used Hunt, I wondered why he hadn’t tried Miller. A former forward who has speed, I suggested it. He finally listened.

I nailed this one. After fumbling the puck early which he admitted was due to nerves, Miller settled it and then made a great move around Swayman to tuck a forehand in for the shootout winner in the ninth round. What a great win. An unlikely hero. But that’s the kind of game it was.

It was really enjoyable. Most shootouts aren’t. This was. Between the Shesterkin blow up and then his return. To some of the attempts and saves. You had a few sweet finishes. It is one of the best games they’ve had. They find a way.

Although the Pens rallied to win against the hopeless Flyers which was highlighted by goal number 500 for Sidney Crosby, who cares. Sure. They didn’t gain any ground. But it’s the Rangers who have played less games. They still have some big ones against Pittsburgh. It’s exciting. That’s the 2021-22 New York Rangers. Enjoy the ride.

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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