The Igor Wall denies Devils, Shesterkin makes 32 saves in Rangers’ 3-1 win

Tonight’s game can be summed up this way. IGOR SHESTERKIN. His stupendous goaltending was the difference in a 3-1 win for the Rangers over the Hudson rival Devils at MSG. Shesterkin made 32 saves on 33 shots to boost his emerging Hart candidacy.

If you don’t know by now, the Vezina is his to win or lose. In improving to a remarkable 27-6-3 for the season, Shesterkin has a 1.96 GAA and .940 save percentage in 36 games. The best goalie in ’21-22 is making the tough stops look routine. They’re not. It’s a combination of his calm demeanor and intense focus.

The Rangers held a 2-1 lead due to Filip Chytil scoring his sixth goal at 8:57 of the second period. The play was made possible by Ryan Lindgren. Victimized back in the first period by Devils lone goalscorer Nico Hischier, Lindgren made a good rush into the Devil zone and drop for a Chytil shot that beat rookie Nico Daws five-hole.

It’s been a tough year for Chytil. Between battling injuries and inconsistency, his fourth NHL season hasn’t been up to expectation. His scoring issues have even seen coach Gerard Gallant healthy scratch him three times. Playing for a second straight game centering the third line, the 22-year old Czech got the game-winner to help give the Blueshirts two points.

In 43 games, he has six goals and seven assists for 13 points. Hardly enough production from a young player who they expected more from. Without Kevin Rooney (week to week), Gallant inserted Jonny Brodzinski on the fourth line and Morgan Barron subbed in for Greg McKegg to play with Chytil and Julien Gauthier on the third line.

If he stays past the trade deadline, Chytil will have to continue to hit the score sheet. It isn’t enough to have a good game without production. For the team’s sake, he must contribute. The lack of secondary scoring remains a serious issue along with the forecheck. The Rangers don’t cycle the puck enough. It nearly cost them tonight.

The Devils had eight of the first nine shots in the third period. It was very lopsided. Half came on a power play where it felt like a shooting gallery. They must’ve attempted eight or nine with Ryan Strome off for a Ryan Strome (offensive zone- slashing). His specialty along with blowing golden scoring opportunities like the one Brodzinski put right on his stick.

That Devil power play was dangerous. For most of the two minutes, they had control of the puck and set up some great chances. The problem was Shesterkin, who turned them away at every turn. It had to be frustrating for Jack Hughes, who was held to only one shot and off the score sheet for the first time in nine games. He set up Yegor Sharangovich a lot. But he couldn’t buy one. He also missed the net high a few times. The Igor Factor.

Hischier had the most opportunities. He led all skaters with seven shots. The Devils captain was everywhere throughout. He easily could’ve had a hat trick. Shesterkin made two flat out denials earlier in the game including kicking out a tough backhand in tight.

There also was a flat out robbery from Shesterkin on Jesper Bratt. Another good scorer who entered over a point-per-game, Bratt got one shot. It was off a great extra pass from Hischier for a one-timer that forced Shesterkin to stretch out and make a great pad save. That’s how locked in he was.

Daws wasn’t bad either on the other side. Making his first appearance at The Garden in the big Hudson Rivalry, he finished with 29 saves on 32 shots. That included a busy first period in which he stopped 15 of 16 to keep the game tied at one.

At the start, the Blueshirts came out aggressively. They fired shots through on Daws, who was strong. It took an effort play from Mika Zibanejad to open the scoring by putting home a rebound of a Jacob Trouba shot for his 21st at 11:11. Trouba and Chris Kreider drew the assists. Alexis Lafreniere was involved as Trouba’s shot rebounded off Daws to Zibanejad to make it 1-0. He was also involved later on.

But with a one-goal lead, the Rangers fell asleep less than three minutes later. On a tentative play by both Zibanejad and Adam Fox, neither played a puck. With Lindgren also in the vicinity, Hischier picked it up and blew past Lindgren and whipped a perfect shot past Shesterkin high glove at 13:56 to tie the score. It was the eighth goal for Hischier over the last 10 games.

Ryan Reaves nudged Daws to earn a goaltender interference penalty. It was enough to hand the Devils their second man-advantage. Rather than take the lead or even gain momentum off of it, they were outworked and out-hustled by the Rangers penalty killers. That included Brodzinski, who was very effective in 9:28 with 2:39 coming shorthanded. I’d prefer to have him in the lineup over McKegg.

With under a minute to go in the first, things got heated between Barclay Goodrow and P.K. Subban. Sick of his shenanigans and remembering what happened to teammate Sammy Blais, Goodrow had enough. He finally got Subban to drop the gloves when it appeared he’d duck him. Goodrow got the decision with a takedown. Both earned five minutes off with 4:47 carrying over to the second.

Following a wide open first, the second was much more tightly played. Both teams played more cautiously. Even though they limited the Devils to just five shots, at times the Rangers struggled with their speed. Both Fox and Lindgren still are having issues in their end. Their play has become more choppy allowing opponents to get chances.

While the top pair hasn’t been totally in sync, that’s clearly not the case for Trouba and K’Andre Miller. Both are playing some of their best hockey. Whether it’s Trouba delivering a huge hit that energizes the team, or a more active Miller using his skating to jump into the rush, their chemistry is undeniable. It was a very strong game for Trouba, who made his presence felt.

The only penalty in the second came from Mason Geertsen when he knocked down Trouba from behind. However, the first Rangers power play was horrid. They couldn’t complete passes and never got anything set up. Credit the Devils for playing an aggressive penalty kill. Overall, the Blueshirts went 0-for-3 with only three shots. It just didn’t click.

Ironically, it was a good play from an on-rushing Lindgren that led to Chytil firing a wrist shot from the slot past Daws at 8:57. His sixth of the season gave them the lead for good. Lindgren made a good read in the neutral zone and backed up the Devils before passing back for the Chytil goal. One he desperately needed.

The Devils made a push late in the period to even it. But following the Shesterkin robbery on Bratt, he came out and challenged Ryan Graves, who ran out of real estate. Shesterkin’s mask came off. But he made sure to get back in net so they wouldn’t pull him from the game. He’s a very confident player.

After outshooting the Devils 9-5 in a much quieter and dull second, things picked up in the third. It was all New Jersey during a lopsided first half. They pressured continuously to generate some good chances. It didn’t matter. Shesterkin wouldn’t allow them to put a puck by him. He was a human brick wall.

That included consecutive stops on Sharangovich and Andreas Johnsson during the Devils’ power play. He also denied Hischier twice more. When they killed the penalty, Brodzinski came out two-on-one with Strome. He made an elevated pass that sat up perfectly for Strome to bury. Only of course he didn’t. So, the game remained 2-1.

Both Patrik Nemeth and Jimmy Vesey each got slashing minors during a scrum to lead to four-on-four. The Rangers got the better opportunities with Strome missing a tip-in and Trouba having a backhand stopped by a sliding Daws. He also missed wide on the rebound.

Did I mention Trouba was good? He was the best defenseman. Without him, this team would be softer than Ben Simmons. I’m pretty sure he could sponsor Hostess. I hope no Brooklyn Nets fans read this blog.

After a couple of saves by Shesterkin, the Rangers used a set play from their end to put the game away. Taking advantage of the Devils gap, Zibanejad skated freely into their zone and then waited for a driving Lafreniere to push the D back. He then dished across for a pea from Kreider that went in and out of the net quickly for number 36 at 11:37. Fox picked up the secondary assist with the perfect outlet that set up the play.

Leading by two, Lafreniere nearly made it 4-1. But Daws shutdown his low backhand to keep his team within striking distance. The more he plays with Zibanejad and Kreider, the more confident Lafreniere looks. He’s more aggressive and thinking shot more while knowing when to pass for open teammates. His growth as a player is why Pavel Buchnevich became expendable. They’re better off for the present and long-term.

A Johnsson roughing minor put the Rangers back on the power play. Johnsson showed frustration during a scrum by getting involved with Goodrow. Booing target Subban gave Chytil a shove after his shot was saved by Daws. That caused the extracurricular activity.

The third power play was the only one that had looks. In fact, Kreider was all set up for one of those tips in front, but just missed. That close to goal number 37. Leon Draisaitl leads the NHL with 38. One up on Auston Matthews and two ahead of Kreider.

The little used second unit got two good opportunities. Chytil had a shot denied by Daws. Then, a pinching Miller missed a point blank shot wide. It was nice to see them set up some chances. They hardly are used and rarely score. That’s an area that must be upgraded. You can’t rely on one great top unit when the playoffs start. It’ll become harder.

Following a good Lafreniere takeaway, Artemi Panarin put the moves on Subban who predictably stuck his leg out to take him down. At least it wasn’t like the horrible ACL injury to Blais. He got right up and started the power play which was two minutes off the clock.

When it was over, the players congratulated Shesterkin, who again stole the show. Although he wasn’t selected as the game’s First Star, he was in my book. Listening to Bryce Salvador talk on the Devils postgame, he had high praise for our goalie who stole the game. It’s been that special a season for Igor.

Now, it’s a four-game road trip that begins at Winnipeg on Sunday. The Blueshirts will also travel to Minnesota, St. Louis and Stars. All should be good tests. Exactly what you want at this time of year.

The Rangers are now 35-15-5 in 55 games. They have 75 points which rank third in the Metro. With the Pens blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime loss at Carolina, they are still in second with 77 points. But have played 57 games. The Hurricanes lead the division with 81 points. Like the Rangers, they have 27 games remaining.

Over the next two weeks, a lot will go into what decisions are made by GM Chris Drury. The lack of scoring depth remains problematic along with a lack of consistent forecheck. Staples you must have to compete in the Spring. Ryan Reaves and Goodrow are two of the players who will comprise a checking line. Who completes it? Is it Gauthier? We’ll see.

We know more scoring is going to be needed. The Rangers have been linked to J.T. Miller. But why would the Canucks trade their best player, who is signed through 2023? They could move Brock Boeser and possibly Conor Garland. That makes more sense. The Canucks are still in the wildcard hunt.

Whatever happens depends on how the team performs. This road trip will be interesting. By the time it ends next Saturday, it’ll be over a week from March 21. Let’s enjoy the ride.

Battle Of Hudson 3 Stars

3rd 🌟 Jacob Trouba NYR primary assist on Zibanejad goal, 2 SOG in 7 attempts, 4 hits, 5 blocks, +2 in 20:55

2nd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad NYR goal (21) plus 🍎, 4 SOG, 17-for-26 on draws, +1 in 19:53

1st 🌟 Igor Shesterkin NYR 32 saves on 33 shots, 9 for 9 PP, 11/11 in 3rd

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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