COLUMBUS, Ohio — The sigh of relief that could be heard all the way from this mid-American outpost to the environs of New York was not so much in response to the Rangers’ 5-3 victory over the Blue Jackets on Saturday night, but to the clean bill of health Igor Shesterkin received after being forced from the game with 6:45 remaining when run over in the crease by Alexandre Texier.
“He’s fine, he could have come back, but he had to do the mandatory 10-12 minutes [under concussion protocol],” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said of Shesterkin. “As soon as he got to the bench he said, ‘I’m fine,’ but we’ve got to be safe.”
To that end, Gallant said the incident would have no impact on his choice of starters Sunday night when the Rangers face the Devils at the Garden.
“I was told there’s no issue,” said the coach, who earlier indicated he might go back-to-back with a goaltender for the first time this season.
The Rangers, with just 16 goals at five-on-five through their first 13 games, struck four times at full and even strength Saturday. They scored three times within a span of 1:03 after falling behind 2-1 at 6:56 of the second period.
First, it was Chris Kreider (who added another on a power play in the third period), then it was Artemi Panarin (who already had scored in the first), finally it was Jacob Trouba.
Bolstered by the quick strikes, the Rangers played confident hockey with the lead. They had blown two-goal leads in the third period in Vancouver and Edmonton on Nov. 2 and Nov. 5, respectively, and had almost frittered away a four-goal lead in the third period Monday against Florida.
This night, the Rangers controlled the puck and spent a majority of time in the Columbus zone while rolling four lines that played smart, physical hockey on the correct side of the puck after the outburst.
“I think we’ve tried to focus over the course of the week and the last few games that you can’t just sit back trying to defend the lead,” said Kreider, who leads the league with seven power-play goals, to match his personal best for a season. “We’ve got to continue to play and do the things that make us successful.
“We’ve got to play in the O-zone, and if we’re going low-to-high, not forcing plays and sending pucks behind the net, it’s going to be tough for them to generate offense. You just don’t want us to sit back and have them tilt the ice. We talked about the positive things we wanted to do in the third period as opposed to kind of ruminating on the negative [approach] we’d taken in trying to protect leads.”
Or, as Gallant put it: “No team is going to be real successful when they defend too much, and we defended way too much the first 13 games.”
The Rangers won more of the 50-50s Saturday. They forced the Blue Jackets to come 200 feet. They kept the number of odd-man rushes to a minimum. They received steady efforts from all four units and the three defense tandems. Kreider specifically cited the fourth line of Ryan Reaves, Kevin Rooney and Dryden Hunt for “tilting the ice.”
Kreider’s praise is the kind of thing Jaromir Jagr did in his heyday in New York, pumping up the fourth line that then consisted of Ryan Hollweg, Dom Moore and Jed Ortmeyer. That’s the kind of thing a leader does.
So was jumping on Texier immediately after the Columbus winger had scored on a deflection before colliding with Shesterkin. There seemed to be heightened awareness of protecting the goaltender after the Rangers had failed to respond Monday when the Panthers made it part of their game plan to storm the bastille.
Kreider, though, disagreed with that analysis as he explained his reaction to the incident, in which Texier was guided toward Shesterkin by Patrik Nemeth.
“You guys might not have been able to see it, but there definitely was a response Monday night. It’s not always visible,” said Kreider, who is up to 11 goals on the year. “This was a different level. I didn’t really see the play, I just saw the end result.
“I don’t know if he got pushed or not pushed. I just saw our goalie on the ice and I saw someone [Texier] lying down next to him and I just reacted, I guess.”
The Rangers reacted to an extended stretch of slothful play with this performance. It is one to build on as they take their 8-3-3 mark into the Garden on Sunday, maybe with Shesterkin in net.
You can exhale now.
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